The Studios Look For An Island In The Set-Top Storm

The Motion Picture Association of America really, really doesn’t want the FCC to tear up the set-top box. So much so that its filing with the commission last week regarding the final report of the Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC) contained a thinly veiled threat of litigation should the FCC mandate disaggregation of pay-TV services into parts that can be reassembled at will, and on constitutional grounds no less.

“Mandating such a regime…could violate content owners’: 1) contracts with distributors regarding how their content may be presented, monetized, and accessed; 2)

Wallpaper: Sunrise of the Sea

exclusive rights under section 106 of the Copyright Act to determine how their content is copied, distributed, and publicly performed; 3) First Amendment right against compelled speech; and 4) Fifth Amendment right against taking of property without due compensation,” the MPAA warned. “If third-parties wish to offer a subset of content, services, features, and functions rather than all the choices distributors offer customers in the way that they offer them, the appropriate course is through individualized negotiation, not regulatory fiat.”

What has the Hollywood trade group so exercised is a proposal by one faction within DSTAC, included in the final report, to require cable and satellite providers to unbundle their video feeds from other elements of their services, including the user interface, interactive features and billing, so those feeds can be incorporated into the UI of a third-party device and integrated with other video services. Only then, proponents of unbundling argue, can consumer electronics makers create devices that can compete fully with or replace set-top boxes provided by pay-TV operators. Read More »

Apple's media strategy: There's an app for that

It’s here. After nearly a year of carefully orchestrated speculation and hype, Apple has finally unveiled: the “iPad,” thus causing millions of women across the blogosphere, in unison, to go, “eewwww.”  (Are there no women in the marketing department at Apple?)

Among the less lunationally sensitive, the verdict has been more mixed, but the rough consensus seems to be that, at this point at least, the iPad is basically an iPod Touch on growth hormones: neat, but not quite overwhelmingly amazing, fantastical and way-cool the way the iPhone seemed when it launched.

Particularly disappointing to some, or at least puzzling, was the relative scarcity of media apps at launch for a device that was billed as revolutionizing the media industry, leading many to wonder what you’re supposed to do with the thing.

I have no doubt those apps will come, however, not only because Apple has already released an iPad SDK but because of what it offers media companies. Read More »

Could online ad exchanges work for news, too?

Last week, Google launched its long-expected bid to conquer the online display advertising business to complement its domination of the search ad market by unveiling the new, auction-based DoubleClick Ad Exchange, built on the ad-serving company it acquired in 2007 for $3.1 billion and has spent the two years since steering through the regulatory process. The new exchange will function a bit like a stock market, allowing web site publishers to put their display inventory up for auction, and advertisers to bid on placements in near-real time, much as they do with Google AdWords today.

Tokyo-stock-exchangeThe idea isn’t new. Both Yahoo and Microsoft already operate online ad exchanges. But byopening its new display ad exchange to the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of web sites that are already part of its AdSense network for  search ads Google will bring enormous new liquidity to what has been, up to now, a pretty small market. In principle, that should lead to more efficient price discovery for advertisers and higher inventory yields for publishers.

Even so, the DoubleClick Ad Exchange has a long way to go before it can dominate the online display ad business. Most online display ads are sold either directly by publishers or through proprietary ad networks–the largest of which is run by Yahoo–which syndicate ads to web sites on behalf of marketers. Only a small percentage of online display ads are currently sold through exchanges. Read More »

Selling the news

The most depressing, if least surprising aspect to the flap over the Washington Post’s now-abandoned plan to sell access to public officials and its own editorial staffers in the form of big-money “salons” for lobbyists was the Post’s naked fetishizing of “those powerful few” who “actually get it done” on Capitol Hill.

newspapersI live and work in Washington, so I know how it goes here. But for an organization at least institutionally committed to free and open debate it’s just sad that the Post would see its salvation in burrowing ever-deeper into its Beltway barrens by promising a “select” guest list–“typically…of “20 or less”–and trumpeting  it’s “off-the-record” solicitude.

It’s no answer to argue, as Media Memo’s Peter Kafka tries to do, that these are desperate times for newspapers calling for desperate measures:

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the Post has been at the nexus of power, money and influence. In fact, Weymouth’s grandmother, Katharine Graham, was famous for hosting gatherings much like these at her house. And publications of all stripes, including this one, as well as Dow Jones, which owns this site, frequently charge fees to attend networking events where their editorial staffs participate.

And you’re likely to see more of this stuff, not less, as publishers search for revenue streams besides advertising to stay afloat. Any tempest you see about this today is going to look quaint in a couple of years.

That’s taking a dive for the short-end money. If newspapers want to be contenders in the future, they should be looking for ways to bring more voices into the conversation, not fewer. They should be building applications to equip readers with their own tools for gathering and disseminating information, not looking for ways to exclude them with promises of “intimate” and “off-the-record” assignations.

Exclusivity is a one-way ticket to palooka-ville in the digital age. If that’s all the Post has got it might as well take the express and get their sooner. — TMW

I linked the news today, oh boy

newspapersI’m assuming a judge and scholar as smart as Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals doesn’t really believe copyright law should be extended to cover the paraphrasing of news reports without the permission of the copyright owner, as he seemed to suggest in a recent blog post (h/t TechCrunch). Instead, I’ll assume he simply meant to be provocative.

Posner’s subject was the parlous condition of the newspaper business in this twilight of the print era. After surveying the declines in hardcopy readership and ad revenue, and the baleful effects of cuts in the ranks of professional journalist (I feel your pain), he comes to this conclusion:

Imagine if the New York Times migrated entirely to the World Wide Web. Could it support, out of advertising and subscriber revenues, as large a news-gathering apparatus as it does today? This seems unlikely, because it is much easier to create a web site and free ride on other sites than to create a print newspaper and free ride on other print newspapers, in part because of the lag in print publication; what is staler than last week’s news. Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.

Others have already discussed the obvious First Amendment problems with this suggestion (the reason I think Posner is not really serious), as well as Posner’s  misdiagnosisof all that ails the newspaper business (he doesn’t even mention the impact of Craigslist, which has nothing to do with free-riding on copyrighted content). I would raise another objection: his assumption that news-gathering must necessarily be financed by newspapers. Read More »