While FCC Dithers, Google Ditches The Box

To hear the pay-TV industry tell it, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s original proposal to “unlock” the set-top box was essentially a sop to Google, a company many in the industry see as having effectively captured the agency, if not the entire Obama administration, and as coveting the incumbent operators’ position in the TV business.

Those suspicions wfccwheelergettyoffledeere only strengthened when Google began offering members of Congress demos of a set-top box that fit remarkably with the sort of navigation device envisioned by Wheeler’s proposal, just days after the proposal was unveiled.
Alarmed, cable operators rushed out its own proposal to “ditch” the set-top box altogether and make their services available, essentially as is, via apps that could run on third-party devices — an idea Google opposed because it would leave the cable operators in control of the user interface and the bundling of channels. Read More »

Music For The Masses

Music streaming has brought a lot of personalization to the experience of listening to music. Faced with the challenge of differentiating their service from competitors featuring substantially the same catalog of music, at a de facto standard price point, streaming services have focused on developing ever-more precise tools for personalizing the listening experience in the hope of keeping users engaged. So, Spotify has its playlists, Apple has its curators, Pandora has its music DNA project.

His_Master's_VoiceMusic rights owners too, in their approach to the streaming business, have also encouraged personalization. Burned badly by free music “sharing” sites, the record labels have been more than happy to reinforce the streaming services’ efforts to turn listening into a personal — and solitary — experience, such as by curating their own Spotify and Apple playlists.

Digital technology itself has also contributed to the bias toward personalization. Use of streaming services is heavily weighted toward mobile devices, particularly phones, which by design are personal, and in general highly personalized devices. Digital distribution also generates the sort of highly granular usage data on which personalization tools rely.

All that personalization has come at a price, however. With everyone cocooned inside their own playlists and cut off from the outside world by earbuds, the communal experience of listening to recorded music with friends or family has become a rarity. Read More »

The Coming Wireless Video Wars

Having dropped $48 billion and change last year to acquire DirecTV, AT&T is now earmarking tens of billions more over the next 3 to 5 years to acquire media companies, according to a report this week by Bloomberg. Citing “people familiar with the plans,” the report said AT&T is targeting acquisitions ranging from $2 billion to $50 billion, with an eye toward “owning some of the content it distributes.”

It likely won’t be distributing it through DirecTV, however, at least not via satellite. According to an earlier Bloomberg report, AT&T will begin phasing out DirecTV’s randallstephensonsatellite platform within the same 3 to 5-year window, with any eye toward making internet streaming its primary TV platform by 2020. The company has lately been lining up carriage deals ahead of its planned launch of its DirecTV Now over-the-top service later this year. And it has been aggressively steering its wireless customers toward DirecTV by bundling unlimited wireless data plans with a DirecTV subscription, which so far has been taken up by some 5 million of its wireless subscribers.

DirecTV Now will also be “zero-rated” for AT&T wireless customers, meaning it won’t count against their monthly data cap. Read More »

For Music Biz, First-Half Results Are A Glass Half Full

The Recording Industry Association of America this week reported that U.S. music sales through the first half of 2012 were up 8.1 percent over the first half of 2015, to $3.4 billion, the industry’s strongest rate of growth in more than a decade.

iphone-artist-spotifyThe surge was due almost entirely to a whopping 112 percent increase in revenue from paid streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal which more than offset a 17 percent decline in digital downloads (including albums, single tracks, and kiosks), and a 16 percent decline in sales of physical formats (CDs and vinyl).

Revenue from free interactive streaming, such as Spotify’s ad-supported tier, YouTube and Vevo, grew 24 percent but remained a tiny slice (5.9 percent) of the overall revenue pie. Revenue from non-interactive streaming services, primarily Pandora, was up 4 percent.

“Streaming in all its forms accounted for almost half of all recorded music revenues in the first half of 2016,” RIAA CEO Carey Sherman wrote in a post on Medium. “This represents a remarkable transformation and reinvention by a business that was principally physical products just six years ago.” Read More »

Why MVPDs, Studios Won’t Take Yes For An Answer on STBs

When Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled his initial proposal to “unlock” the pay-TV set-top box back in January, pay-TV service providers and programmers howled in protest. Operators complained that the proposal, which called for multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to make their video feeds, channel listings, and subscriber entitlement data available to third-party device makers as discreet “information flows,” would require a major and expensive re-architecting of their systems. Programmers complained that making their content available directly to device makers with whom the programmers had no contractual arrangement amounted to a de facto compulsory copyright license, which the FCC had no authority to create or enforce.

FCC_buildingBoth threatened to sue.

The two arguments were, in fact, reinforcing. The current carriage agreements TV programmers and distributors have with pay-TV operators are premised in part on pay-TV systems operating in certain ways and not in other ways. Changing how those systems function could cause part of the premise of those licensing agreements to crumble. Read More »

The FCC Chairman’s Tactical Retreat On Set-Top Boxes (Updated)

After months of intensive lobbying by pay-TV providers and TV programmers, as well as mounting pressure from congress, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has apparently backed off quite a bit from his original proposal to “unlock the [set-top] box” and is preparing to adopt the broad outlines the industry’s app-based counter-proposal. But that doesn’t mean the struggle for control of the set-top is over.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler gestures at the FCC Net Neutrality hearingIn an ex parte filing with the commission this week, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, along with DirecTV-parent AT&T, pushed back forcefully against elements of what appears to be Wheeler’s new plan to bring greater competition to the market for pay-TV-compatible set-top boxes, as mandated by congress more than a decade ago.

The new plan, as described in general terms in a series of ex parte filings in recent weeks, will apparently require multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to develop apps that can run on third-party devices but that replicate all of the features of MVPDs’ own services, including making all the operator’s linear and on-demand content available on similar terms.  It will also require MVPDs to make their content searchable by third-party, universal-search applications. Read More »

A Measure of Success: Frank Ocean, Netflix and the Value of Data

Frank Ocean’s surprise release “Blonde” debuted at No. 1 this week on the Billboard Top 200 album chart, racking up sales of 275,000 units, despite its not being released as an album in any physical format.

frank-ocean-blonde-x750So what were those 275,000 units? Some 232,000 of them were paid digital album downloads, according to Nielsen Music. The other 43,000 consisted of “equivalent album units.”

Say what?

An “equivalent album unit” (shouldn’t that be “album-equivalent unit?) is a metric devised by Billboard in 2014 to accounting for streaming activity and individual track downloads for charting purposes. Ten individual track downloads from an album as measured by Nielsen, or 1,500 on-demand streams of individual album tracks as reported to Billboard by the major streaming services, are counted as an equivalent album unit. In the case of Blonde, individual track downloads were not available at the time of the albums initial release, but they accrued 65 million streams. Dividing that 65 million by 1,500 yields 43,000 equivalent units. QED. Read More »

The More Things They Change, The More Digital Platforms Become The Same

YouTube is working on a plan to be more like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter. According to a report by VentureBeat, the video platform has been developing a new feature internally called Backstage that will allow users to post photos, links, text posts and other non-video content alongside their videos. The new content will resemble a Facebook Timeline, presented as a feed scrolling in reverse-chronological order on the user’s channel home page, but also appearing in subscribers’ feeds and notifications.

Backstage, or whatever it ends up being called, is expected to be rolled out later this year on select YouTube accounts.

The move to make using YouTube more like using Facebook seems only fair at this point given that Facebook has lately become more like YouTube. The social network has, with considerable success, moved aggressively to turn itself into a major platform for hosting and sharing user-created videos — once the near exclusive facebook_videoterrain of YouTube.

Facebook has also lately taken steps to become more like Twitter, launching Facebook Live to rival Periscope, while Twitter has tried to become more like YouTube by making video a bigger part of its offering.

A similar convergence is underway in the music streaming area. Pandora is reportedly in the final stages of negotiations with the record companies to launch an on-demand tier to its service, which would make it more like Spotify and Apple Music. Spotify, meanwhile, is acting more YouTube and even Netflix, adding original video to its mix of content.

It’s getting to where you can’t tell the players apart without a scorecard.

More to the point, it’s getting harder for digital platforms and services to differentiate themselves from each other. Music streaming services, which already share substantially the same catalog of content and now increasingly share the same business model, are trying, through the increasing use of  individual artist exclusives. Others have sought to make human vs. machine curation a point of differentiation. Read More »

NBC, Rio, And the Long-Term Value of Televised Sports

NBC’s Olympic efforts in Rio are falling short of its previous best. Through the first 10 days of the games, the broadcaster’s prime time coverage has averaged 27.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen. That’s more than enough to trounce CBS, ABC, and Fox, but it’s down 17 percent from NBC’s coverage of the 2012 games in London, despite a more favorable time zone that allowed for high-profile events where American’s typically excel, like swimming, to be shown live in prime time.

usain_bolt_smileThe fall off among viewers 18-34 has been even steeper, down 25 percent from London.

NBC execs are quick to point out that the ratings for its prime time coverage on its broadcast channel don’t tell the whole story. NBC Universal is showcasing the games live across its entire suite of cable networks throughout the day, some of which have drawn strong ratings in their own right. The final of the men’s golf competition, shown live on NBCU’s Golf Channel on Sunday, delivered the second highest ratings for any 90 minutes of televised golf this year after the final round of the Masters, despite the absence of many high-profile players. Between noon ET when it started, and 3:10 p.m. when it ended, the competition earned the highest household rating (1.02, with 1.6 million viewers) since Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson went head to head at Pebble Beach in 2012. Go figure.

NBC also points to record-breaking digital viewership of this year’s games. Through Aug. 14th, NBC had delivered 1.86 billion live-streaming minutes, besting the total from the last three Olympics combined by more than 25 percent. NBC is live-streaming all the events in Rio as well as simulcasting it’s prime time coverage. Read More »

Audio: RightsTech Summit Sessions

The inaugural RightsTech Summit was held in New York last week at the Japan Society, across the street from the United Nations. Sponsored by Concurrent Media and Digital Media Wire, the summit brought together over 100 industry leaders, entrepreneurs, copyright experts, and artists from across multiple media and entertainment sectors for a full day of panels and keynotes on topics ranging from blockchain-based rights registries, cryptocurrencies, enterprise-level rights manaRT Summit_Venuegement platforms, smart contracts and more.
We have complete audio on five of the seven panel discussions, as well as the two keynote Q&As.

On September 27th and 28th, Concurrent Media and DMW will host two mornings of RightsTech workshops in New York as part of the DMW New York Media Festival. We will also be announcing plans for the broader RightsTech initiative kicking off later this year. Read More »

Video: RightsTech Summit Keynote Conversation With Benji Rogers

RT Summit 3PledgeMusic CEO and founder of the DotBlockchainMusic project Benji Rogers was interviewed by Robert Levine, author of “Free Ride” and a former executive editor at Billboard, during a keynote conversation at the inaugural RightsTech Summit on July 26 in New York. Among the topics they discussed was the potential for blockchain technology to create an immutable but endlessly updatable ledger of “digital truth” regarding the ownership and priority of sound recordings and musical compositions.

Co-produced by Concurrent Media Strategies and Digital Media Wire, the RightsTech Summit brought together over 100 senior media and technology executives, thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists from across multiple media and entertainment industries for a wide-ranging discussion of technology innovation around the registration, management and licensing of media rights on digital platforms. The next RightsTech event will be held in New York in September in conjunction with Digital Media Wire’s New York Media Festival.

Video of Benji Roger’s keynote is available here. We’ll have audio from several other sessions from last week’s Summit up shortly.

(Video courtesy of SlidesLive).

Verizon Completes It’s Web 1.0 Roll-up, But May Not Stop There

With its $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo this week, coming a year and two months after its $4.4 billion acquisition of AOL, Verizon now owns the two dominant players in the web ecosystem — circa 1999. But at least it got them cheap.

Yahoo once had a market cap of $125 billion; AOL’s reached $224 billion in the immediate wake of its January 2000 acquisition of Time Warner — roughly the same as Verizon’s market cap today. So, scooping up both for less  $10 billion could be considered a steal.

YAHOO_headquartersThe question is, why bother? Neither AOL nor Yahoo is exactly dominant in its market today. In Yahoo’s case, it isn’t even clear what that market is. Even in announcing the sale to employees, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer could barely articulate a coherent description of what it is Verizon was buying, let alone why.

At best, Verizon is getting, in AOL and Yahoo, a disconnected assortment of online media properties and a pair of online advertising businesses built around display, rather than search, social, or mobile — the dominant modes of digital advertising today. While Verizon’s distribution reach in mobile may be able to breathe some new life into some of those media assets it has a long, long way to go before it could seriously challenge Facebook and Google, the dominant players it today’s digital media distribution and advertising ecosystem, if that’s really its goal. Read More »

Fahrenheit 1201: DMCA Showdown at the Library of Congress

The Electronic Frontier Foundation on Thursday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, challenging Sections 1201, 1203, and 1204 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, known as the “anti-circumvention provisions,” on constitutional grounds.

That, in itself, is not particularly surprising. EFF served as pro bono counsel to Eric Corley in one of the first major cases to test Section 1201 in court and has been an outspoken critic of the law since it was enacted in 1998. What makes this week’s filing notable is its timing and EFF’s apparent strategy.

Library_of_Congress_(1)Section 1201 broadly prohibits the circumvention of DRM (“technical protection measures,” or TPMs in the language of the statute) used to protect access to copyrighted works (Section 1203 prohibits “trafficking” in anti-circumvention technologies and Section 1204 provides for criminal penalties for violating Section 1201). In its lawsuit, filed on behalf of a computer security researcher and a technology inventor and entrepreneur, EFF claims the three provisions violate the First Amendment because they prevent people from engaging in what would otherwise be protected speech under the fair use doctrine in copyright law — an argument raised many times before.

But the complaint also takes direct aim at the law’s triennial rulemaking procedures by which members of the public are allowed to apply to the Library of Congress for an exemption to the anti-circumvention rules for specific purposes. The complaint declares the rulemaking itself “an unconstitutional speech-licensing regime.” Read More »

When Live-Streaming the News, Who’s Working for Whom?

Last month, from the floor of the House of Representatives, Twitter’s Periscope app and Facebook Live cemented their place within the news media ecosystem. Exactly where that place is, however, is up for debate.

As discussed in a previous post here, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) had ordered the cameras in the House chamber used to feed C-Span turned off, just as Democrats, frustrated over the majority’s legislative stonewalling, were staging a sit-in on the floor. Rather than simply going off us-senate-debates-defense-authorization-bill-video-c-span-org_758399the air, however, some Democratic members then whipped out their phones and started live-streaming their protest using Periscope and Facebook Live, in violation of House rules that prohibit the use of electronic devices on the floor. Here in Washington, the live-streams quickly became the talk of the town on social media.

Frustrated by its inability to cover breaking news on its own turf, C-Span broke with protocol and began re-broadcasting the Periscope and Facebook Live streams. That got the attention of other news organizations, especially the three big cable news networks, which also began picking up the members’ streams, turning what might have been a minor political skirmish into a major national story.

For Periscope and Facebook Live it was a breakthrough moment. Not only did the episode showcase their potential as tools for both news gathering and dissemination, the House members’ use of the apps, and especially C-Span’s decision to defy the Speaker by re-broadcasting the live streams, became part of the story itself, drawing huge national attention to the live-streaming apps just as Twitter and Facebook are each making a major push to become the dominant live-streaming platform. Read More »