Monday, October 16, 2006

'Round and 'Round We Go Again: Video Publishing Retraces Music Industry's Mistakes

The Wall Street Journal covers the brewing legal storm forming over Google's new YouTube acquisition and television producers who are beginning to recognize how deeply the pervasiveness of sharing video clips by YouTube are impacting their own distribution channels. An estimate from Viacom in the article pegs YouTube views of pirated content at about 80,000 times a day. With media company lawyers contending that YouTube could be liable for copyright violation fines of up to $150,000 per unauthorized video, this could get to be a fight that would make the music company battles against file sharing networks look puny by comparison.

I must admit that outside of old movies most of the video I am viewing these days is coming off of online video clips, most of which are served up from YouTube or similar services via weblogs that place the clips in context. It makes it so much easier to find content that you really care about rather than relying on the ancient broadcast model that sucks up time and attention in ways that I really don't want to give it. The phenomenon is spreading perhaps faster than music file sharing since there is always new footage surfacing for people to post. Where does this all go? The answer is probably found in the closing of music-oriented stores such as the recent Tower Records closing: if financial models for user-controlled distribution are not defined quickly, then video distribution will go the way of the music industry soon enough.

Unfortunately, the early going in the new video wars seems to point towards a replay of the music industry's failed digital strategies. The script goes roughly like this:
  1. Waste time suing content distributors, only to discover that new services and methods will spring up anyway.
  2. Waste time suing individuals, only to discover that it alienates your audiences who are going to want to circumvent copyright controls even moreso.
  3. Waste time settling on a handful of proprietary DRM methods locked into specific platforms or distributors, only to discover that this slows down market acceptance of rights-protected content and accelerates the growth of unauthorized use and of free or ad-supported alternatives.
  4. Start closing down your existing distribution outlets as the time wasted on ineffective legal and commercial remedies has opened up markets to viable substitute content that is easier to share online.
What to do? How about a playbook that reads like this:
  1. Have leaders in media agree on a DRM standard that makes it easy for users to distribute content from themselves or others legally via services such as YouTube. The standard would include capabilities that would make it easy for a user to specify a "fair use" portion of content that can be aired online or elsewhere without any human intervention.
  2. Have the DRM standard include monetization options that can allow the content to be displayed in different ways in different venues. So, for example, if a site wanted to display a clip larger than a "fair use" snippet a display ad or paid content placement would appear next to the clip or via an inline ad, or no ad if the distributor was willing to pay a royalty.
  3. Encourage users to use the DRM standard so that they can make money with their OWN footage. Have the standard include automatic payments similar to an AdSense service and include "hooks" that allow their friends to benefit from redistribution. Invest in open source video mixing software that makes it easier for people t use the standard.
  4. Turn your existing broadcast outlets into the equivalent of video RSS feeds, making it easy for people to subscribe to them in a portable DRM format.
A modest proposal for a big problem, yes. But it's probably the only way out of this mess before media companies risk making their content any less relevant than it's already becoming. Stop monkeying around with technology to create artificial "choke points" that just don't fit into today's most effective content distribution models. Invest deeply and quickly in the technologies and business models that DO fit today's content distribution patterns and that help ALL video producers benefit from improved content monetization schemes. Hopefully the TV crew comes up with the right solution more quickly than the music industry has. As of now I'm not betting on it, though.
Post a Comment