April, 2009

With streaming, media congloms try to figure out which side they're on

The presidents of six cable network owners shared a panel at the Cable Show in Washington Wednesday and split 3-3 on whether streaming full-length episodes of their original series for free online is a good idea. Rich Battista of Fox Cable Networks Group, Bonnie Hammer of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Van Toffler of MTV Networks came out in favor. Josh Sapan of Rainbow Media, Steve Koonin of Turner and Scripps Networks president John Lansing were all opposed.

One likely reason for the split: Fox and NBC-Uni jointly own Hulu, the site from which most full-length TV episodes are streamed, while MTV’s parent company, Viacom, is in litigation against Hulu’s main rival, YouTube. Turner, Scripps and Rainbow Media, on the other hand, are mostly programmers, with little in the way of platform strategies.

Another reason: Fox and NBC-Uni cable networks share a corporate roof with broadcast networks, which have been far more generous than cable nets in making their programming available online. Scripps, Turner and Rainbow are cable-only. Read More »

Boxee vs. Comcast: An authentic dispute

Marketing VP Marty Roberts of thePlatform, which is owned by Comcast, spoke proudly during the final session of the McGraw Hill Media Summit Thursday of the work his company is doing to find ways to let cable subscribers access the same premium content they get on their TV from the Internet.

“We’re investing a lot of time and money studying things like Open Social, which lets you bring your online identity with you as you go to different Web sites or different networks, to see if there’s a way we could do that for your cable identity, so your cable rights would go with you as you access different Web sites,” he said. “So, you might have HBO rights and could access that content online, someone else might have Showtime rights, or sports.”

The effort is part of a plan by cable operators and networks to protect their core subscription business by restricting online access to premium pay-TV content to paying cable or satellite subscribers using some form of online authentication.

Boxee co-founder and CEO Avner Ronen wasn’t impressed. Read More »

UK ponders a Digital Rights Agency

The British Intellectual Property Office on Friday published a discussion paper asking the public for input on whether their might be a useful role for a new, industry-backed Digital Rights Agency in reducing illegal file-sharing as well as facilitating the development of legal online services. The 29-page paper (PDF) is presented as a “straw man,” meant more as a conversation-starter than as a concrete set of proposals. Yet it’s also of a piece with a separate, formal consultation underway in Britain on proposed legislation to require Internet service providers to warn file-swappers identified by their IP addresses that their activity is illegal.

Since the new report raises the question of ISP liability–and a possible role for a new non-governmental agency in enforcing it–it’s bound to spark controversy. But it would be a shame if that were to become the sum total of the discussion around it because the text of the report suggests two key, related insights on the part of its authors that, in Media Wonk’s view, can’t be emphasized enough in trying to figure out how to respond the collision of creative works and digital networks. Read More »

The Iger sanction

Are the major media companies finally starting to embrace the disruption to their business wrought by digital technology? Alas, I wouldn’t go that far. But there are signs that some of them are at least starting to come to grips with it and its implications for their future. A recent case in point was the interview with Disney CEO Bob Iger at the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecommunications conference this week, in which he provided what, for the head of a public company with recession-battered shareholders to consider, was a pretty progressive perspective on the state of the business, particularly with respect to the home entertainment sector.

The essence of his comments was that the gross margins generated by media companies’ traditional transactional business model are gone, probably for good, and that companies like Disney–and their shareholders–are simply going to have to adjust to a life of lower-margin, service-based business models. Read More »

Soak the ISPs

New York–While France, Great Britain, New Zealand and other territories grapple with efforts to make ISPs liable to one degree or another for copyright infringement occurring on their networks, broadband providers in the U.S. may soon find themselves dragged into the center of the debate as well. Speakers at a lively copyright panel here during the Digital Music Forum East Thursday focused on the potential role of ISPs in a system of blanket licenses and revenue collection aimed at turning currently illegal file-trading into a money maker.

“ISPs are the elephant in the room in the discussion of copyright,” attorney Mark Fischer of Fish & Richardson said. “I think you’ll see ISPs dragged more and more into the discussion of payment for copyright and I think it will happen fairly soon.”

Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association, which represents Webcasters, thought that was a terrible idea. Read More »