Where Does All The Sports Go ?

Today I was off work. There were no interesting sports on any of the UK networks (yes, you can pay Sky a huge amount to watch nothing...).

So, I thought, why not either catch up or watch some on demand games.

But there aren't any.

Of the roughly 50,000 hours of top class rugby played in the past year, only a few highlights are available.

The same goes for pretty much every other sports. Yet the likes of Netflix and Amazon have built massive businesses with on demand. Why don't they just buy these rights for next to nothing since they're unused...?

Sky Is Lost Without Sport

The trouble with being the mouthpiece of an oligarch is that you have to spout so much rubbish.

Trump and Murdoch prove this in different ways.

Sky has built a broadcasting empire on the back of sporting rights, but its attempts at becoming a studio are pathetic. The likes of Mad Dogs and the dreadful, dreadful Riviera shows that it is light years behind Netflix and Amazon in nonfactual programme commissioning.

The 700k audience for the first episode of Riviera has fallen to the point where the show's episodes has no one to post Wikipedia entires for them: even the press department gave up and went home to watch something else.

And so Sky has regrouped around 'themed' sports channels, but still shows content on channels which don't seem available (can anyone actually view 'Sky Sports Mix'? We certainly failed to do so when trying to find the Super Rugby final at our local pub the other day).

The charging makes no sense, it isn't based on content, just on the number of channels. One channel is £18, additional channels are £4 or all channels are £27.

I'd be delighted to pay a tenner for a cricket and rugby channel, but I'm not cross subsidising the idiocy that is soccer. So, the pirates are drawing me into their grasp.

Sky does not understand the pound to pennies world it now operates in whilst trying to keep up with the pennies to pounds demands of soccer agents.

In the US this issue was solved a long time ago through salary caps. It's time for soccer and rugby to do the same. How can you have teams with twenty times the money competing in the same tournament. That's not sports, it's hunting. It's not fairness, it's capriciousness. 

In Europe, Sky has built its own bed and now needs to lie in it as much richer competitors like Amazon and Google come along. Laughing. There is always someone with a bigger bank account. And we mere fans, petty minions get shafted time and again.

Sports Rights Holders Are Finally Balancing The Books

It took a while, but the sports industry (what a horrible oxymoron that is) seems to have woken up to the value of its rights.

Well over a decade ago, I remember that we bid for an online system for the World Rally Championship. When I grew up, this was a hugely popular sport that would attract a quarter of the population of Wales onto the streets and into the forests on cold, dark November evenings. Rallying was bigger than Formula 1 back then by some distance. But they never got the TV right. They looked for a quick buck and handed their TV rights to a company that paid them, not to an organization like ours that was going to charge them. Big mistake. Who watches rallying now ? The sport is a sideline and the live events attract a tiny fraction of their previous audiences.

Many sports became too greedy. Boxing is still getting by, but no free to air broadcaster want to transmit two guys battering each other into hospital beds, so that's a special case.

But cricket. Oh, cricket. In an age where there are as many channels and as many feeds as you can ever wish, finding a single day's play of a county game is impossible. Even the TV friendly T20 format has struggled in the UK thanks to being confined to pay TV.

Likewise, the likes of the BBC and S4C can no longer compete for top level rugby, so the sport became present only in the 4m or so homes that can afford Sky Sports on its own service or on Virgin or Now TV.

Obviously a number more viewers go down to the dwindling number of pubs willing to pay the exorbitant fees charged by Sky to watch matches, if they can navigate around the football viewing in the local boozer, of course.

Then something dramatic happened. People in the UK and US stopped buying sports packages.

Of course, many of these streams are available from pirate sources, which the broadcasters have been very slow in dealing with. But the trend is clear. People are no longer willing to pay £40 for sports coverage when Netflix and Amazon provide phenomenal entertainment for £7.99 a month. The demands of Premiership agents and their over-preened 'stars' is in danger of destroying the model.

And the sports federations also realised that no one was turning up to watch their sports, or playing them, since they had sold their souls to appeal to an ever diminishing pool of people willing to pay through the nose for their rights.

So, all of a sudden, sanity seems to be breaking out in the sports rights market, with both cricket and rugby in the UK being made available live on free to air channels, albeit in sample sized, 'get them hooked' packages. Sky Sports, meanwhile, has split its rights more logically along channel bases: this means they can see who is willing to pay for what sports, rather than annoyingly obfuscating their services over several channels and red buttons.

So, from a rights holder perspective, we seem to be seeing some sanity and logic returning to the broadcasting of sports.

To paraphrase a former famous neighbour of mine, “An agent is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” Thankfully, sports federations seem to have realised that the value of sports coverage extends beyond lucrative but restrictive packages.

But he next pratfall are all the 'new broadcasters' waiting in the wings, promising the earth for nothing. Beware the geeks bearing gifts, sports rights people...

The Importance Of Rights


You may think that rights are things that only big companies need to worry about, but this is far from the reality.

If you have a website, then there's a fair chance that you have acquired rights for software. In fact, a simple website probably has many, many licences attached to it, from open source to fully commercial. And then every image that you use on your website, brochure and presentations have rights attached to them.

Of course, you can ignore all of this, but clients are increasingly conscious of the need to audit their suppliers and maximise the rights they own and have acquired, so there are sound commercial reasons for effectively managing your rights.

Companies have two kinds of rights to deal with:

Rights in or acquired rights

Rights out or rights owned and available for sale

These obviously need to be dealt with separately, but rights in and rights out can often be linked. If you produce a book, but use an illustrator; if you produce a video with music and actors, you are dealing with rights in linked to rights out, and often this can be part of an even wider ecosystem. We call this the "rights chain".

The effective management of your rights involves a number of key steps:

  1. Audit and record your rights
  2. Make your rights available and searchable
  3. Track the usage and sales of your rights
  4. Link your rights to other business systems

Rights are often granted or defined  in contracts or deals. Sometimes they are bundled together or offered as part of comprehensive access: a viewer's Spotify or Netflix accounts is an example of this, as would be a subscription to an image bank or music library.

These rights, in turn, are made up of what we call "rights dimensions": these cover what rights have been acquired or awarded, eg territory, language, window (start and end time and date), usage, platforms and so on...

The permutations are potentially infinite. 

Traditionally the granting and usage of rights are handled by lawyers in non-standard contracts, but increasingly larger organisations such as Amazon, Apple and Netflix handle their rights in a standardised way. 

Moreover, software such as TV Everywhere's Assetry platform enable rights to be managed effectively in the cloud. It's used by major brands, ad agencies and even pharma companies, indicating how prominent rights management is becoming; important not only financially, but also for compliance.

It's time for every organisation to reflect and review on how they use and manage rights. In a world where many things are becoming virtualised, rights are everything.

Time To Get Real About Your Content

This week I was accused by a respected colleague about banging on about the same old things in this publication. But, as they say, all that it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing. And my conviction is doubled after a call with a broadcaster client and his tech team this week,

On a call, the teach and production team from a small regional broadcaster asked how they could use our platform to embed YouTube videos. They were really not interested in any tools beyond Facebook or YouTube, which is why nearly all ad revenue is moving away from traditional media to Facebook and YouTube.

These guys just saw how easy these platforms were to use and the impressions they were getting and were selling this to their bosses as the way forward.

Yeah, we got ten thousand viewers on FB for that live feed. Big fucking deal. How much money did you make to pay for all the production costs? Yes, your staff are inciting you to give away money to some of the richest corporations on earth.

No one was asking: "what is this costing us?" or "how do we monetise?".

Well, let me read you a hard truth. It is costing you the salaries of these techies and their mates, plus the salaries of everyone producing your content.

In fact, your staff are so young and stupid that they have persuaded you to outsource all of your revenues, but none of your costs, to very clever American non-taxpaying multinationals. Which, of course, is their business model.


The Quality Of TV Is Strained

Last week I was watching the rugby with an old friend of my wife's family who is ten years retired (so even older than me) and he bragged how he used Mobdro to watch all his sports at home. 

If you're not familiar with this unofficial Android app, it aggregates (illegal) streams from across the internet and gives you access to most of the world's main free and pay TV services, including HBO, Sky Movies and Canal +.

It also lets you set recordings and can beam to your big screen via Fire TV or Chromecast (or whatever Google are calling it this week...).

The trouble with it, of course, is that the quality is variable and the streams often fail n the middle of a movie or a sports event.

Still, it could save an average cord cutter a thousand pounds a year.

The ongoing battle by content owners to control their content is becoming a rather futile battle driven by viewers' frustrations with the slicing and dicing if services across multiple se vice providers. Content owners sliver up their rights to obtain maximum revenue and then the content providers aggregate them again, but there are very few content services that offer absolutely all content. Therefore we live in a world of apps and dongles and set top boxes and proxy streaming.

Clearly, this is the free market, but as illegal content continues to become easier and more convenient to access, the true trade off will be in quality and reliability.

Bug telcos and cablecos have long realised this and see this game playing out straight into their hands, just as net neutrality is in grave danger of being undermined further in markets like the US.

Generation Recasting

Two Germans were today convicted of illegally pirating feeds of Bundesliga football matches from Sky Deutschland.

Once upon a time the main source of content piracy were projectionists in cinemas, who could set up a tripod and video camera and then record off the large screen.

Which plays into the truism that if you can see it you can pirate it.

With Periscope, Facebook Live, YouTube Live it has never been easier for anyone with a mobile phone to pirate anything from a live concert to TV stream.

With viewing figures for NFL collapsing and subscriptions for ESPN sharply down, you can see how important this ruling was for Sky. However, the writing is on the wall.


I'm doing a quick audit on what the Trump victory means to me and our industry.

First of all, there are the unknowns. Who the heck knows what platitudes like "make America great again" (isn't it doing pretty well already ?) mean. Who knows. We will find out in the new year.

The markets will fall and so will my ISA investments and many millions will be wiped off share prices in the short term. The British pound will appreciate a bit and the dollar will fall. But this makes American exports more competitive, so, as with Brexit, it's an immediate win.

Trump's policy to enable US multinationals to bring their billions back onshore through massive tax cuts makes sense and will be very bad for Ireland and the EU. It should stimulate M&A within the US. Good for the VC industry.

His requirement for US companies to manufacture in the US is something strange to countenance. I'm not sure how you get Appalachian miners to build smart phones with their pick axes. This will probably be quietly dropped and there's little doubt that he will betray the constituncy that gave him power. Blue collar guy you were screwed yesterday and expect the same tomorrow...

Rights and the content market will probably be OK and remain highly protected. There's little doubt that Burnett and his production company protected Trump from embarrassing out takes during the hustings and that Trump would have launched his own production company or channel as a hedge had he lost. So he's aligned with the content industry, although I suspect he may want revenge on Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Gaga.
Perhaps most seriously, protectionism and Brexit will make it more difficult for US multinationals to operate globally. There may be serious trade wars between the US and China and the US and the EU. We recently saw Microsoft raise their prices 22% in the UK and US tech will get more and more expensive. And the EU will wonder why three US companies have a virtual monopoly on IT and why two others have a monopoly on the internet. 

Ironically, the lack of a Trump TV will see Fox drift to the left, whilst other media will be forced to reflect their viewership and drift to the right. The media may instinctively lean left, but at the end of the day it is controlled by a very few very big businesses which are naturally conservative.

Whether these will be allowed to merge, such as AT&T and Time Warner, is questionable, but since Comcast was allowed to acquire NBCU it would seem to be difficult to object.

And there is little doubt that the media will be clamped down upon. 

All this said. Who knows? We have a self-professed maverick in charge of all of our futures now.

Altered Realities

In a world of covers and sampling, memes and widespread piracy, one of the biggest questions facing us is 'what is original ?'.

Adobe this week proudly unveiled Voco, a programme that can literally put words into your mouth (or anyone else's) by editing your recorded speech. A bit like their Photoshop product does for images, or After Effects does for video.

The reality is that all copyrighted works become derived. A musical piece or song becomes a performance, a play is a theatre event, a script becomes a film. In a film, music, performances and other artistic contributions are woven together. And even the finished work may be further versioned into different cuts, languages, dubs and components of yet other movies.

In the past such versioning at the very least demanded an expensive infrastructure such as a sophisticated audio studio or edit suite. Now, it's all available in your mobile phone.

So, as we spend more and more time altering others's work, we have to ask what is original and where do the rights exist ? Or possibly where do they persist ?

In a world where one of two liars (one perhaps more blatant than the other) is about to be elected President of the United States, the veracity of our world is in danger of slipping away unless we find a way of tracking and making accountable how ideas are developed, improved or manipulated or debased, and by whom.

Art has long been about editing reality, and so perhaps has politics, which is fine if everything is in the public domain and we can track its veracity, but what happens when a lying politician is acceptable to millions of people, but a forged work of art is not ? And who takes credit ?

The Increasing Importance Of Metadata

When I went for my first job interview the only real test I was given was to write a title on the side of a 35mm film can to see if I could do so legibly. As someone who had just graduated with honours degrees in film&tv and educational broadcasting I was insulted.

Now, over thirty years on, I realise how important a lesson I learnt that day and how important metadata was, and still is, in the film and TV industry. Indeed, being able to write on the side of a film can doesn't cut it any more.

Only a decade ago, I went to a meeting with one of Europe's largest broadcasters to talk about digitisation of their library, only to find that their master broadcast tapes were all logged in a school exercise book, often in pencil, with little more than the title, series, episode and transmission date.

Of course, metadata has come a long way in the recent past and its importance is increasing immeasurably in the information age.

Once upon a time all the information you needed was available from a cinema billboard. Today you need to worry about everything from the container format and codec for the video file to the rights position of contributing artists. As metadata requirements have ballooned, the problem of data input has increased.

Let's face it, someone has to enter all that data in the first place - and keep it up to date and it is becoming a burgeoning problem.

So, what can be done ? 

Well the obvious first step is to decide how and where the metadata should be stored. 

An effective way of doing this is to set up a project container where key information and all subsequent information and assets can be stored. The problem with many such systems is that they are either informal and unstructured (think of a folder on Box or Dropbox) and lack specific functions required by the film and TV industry, or that they are too restricted. For example, many asset management systems are very poor at managing elements such as royalties and rights.

To address this we have developed a core system called Assetry that combines both asset and rights metadata and can also plug into existing systems such as scheduling and OTT systems. 

A key challenge was to make the system as automated as possible whilst dealing with both technical and descriptive metadata. Technical metadata, for example, is automatically stripped from master files and scene and voice recognition software can also be integrated to automate rushes processing.

But this does not negate the need for human involvement totally. 

Production information and also contractual information need inputting by humans (at least for the time being). This is why it is essential to build the metadata capturing process into the production process from start to end, or from when an idea is conceived to when the programming is sold and distributed.

The cloud is producing fantastic tools to make life easier and cheaper for film and TV producers, but, thankfully, the need for sentient humans is unlikely to go away any time soon. However, a centralised cloud based metadata platform does open up the ability to offshore or crowdsource logging and streamline the distribution of metadata and assets.

How NOT To Be Like Warner Bros and Track Your Rights

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If ever there was a story that shows how complex rights have become to manage in the internet era, it's the revelation that Warner Bros has requested a take down on its own website. In other words they have asked Google and others to blacklist it because it is carrying pirated content. To be fair to Warner Bros, we hear similar stories about other rights holders on a regular basis.

More than anything, this shows how complex rights have become to manage, and it doesn't just affect large multinationals, it's relevant to most companies across a wide range of sectors. Anyone who uses images, video, illustrations, quotations, code or music in any of their sales or marketing activities, for example.

Close to home, for example, we regularly undertake an audit of the components, shareware and paid for software we use in building our platform. At the last count it was fifty two different licences that need tracking. Some are open source today, but who says that they will be tomorrow ? The terms and conditions lie behind a tickbox - the kind that we all glibly agree to without considering the consequences.

The possible consequences are dire. Marketing and ad agencies can loose clients, financial and pharma companies may not be compliant and broadcasters could be in breach of contracts.

The situation is such that last year Rights Tracker was approached by one of the world's largest companies to help their in house legal team keep track of the rights their company was acquiring across the globe.

In response, and using our core Assetry platform, we developed a new platform for managing acquired rights. Not only does it enable licensing terms to be recorded and tracked, but, if available in digital form, the actual assets can also be stored.

The result is that it is easy to run searches and produce reports detailing the actual rights position at any time. As well as making sure that companies don't get themselves into the pickle that Warner Bros are in, users can also save money by re-using existing assets and licences rather than paying for new ones.

The team at Rights Tracker is about to roll our a beta program for the new product, so get in touch if you'd like to track your assets, licences and rights.

That's all folks!

Escaping The YouTube Trap

Let's face it, YouTube provides a great service for video producers and program makers - a free uploading and hosting service for all your videos with a ready global audience.

So why are more and more TV and video professionals turning away from the service ?

Well, the reasons are manifold.

Some will read the fine print and realize that they are compromising productions that they may have spent a great deal of money producing.

Others will realize that they are espousing valuable money making opportunities.

More and more are realizing that YouTube is a horribly cluttered environment that may have its role, but it is not a solution for online video management.

As other social networks such as Facebook become equally important for video,  then there's a need to look beyond YouTube.

Also, as more and more video professionals look to manage their productions and services in the cloud, YouTube is clearly not a platform to use for this.

As YouTube gets closer and closer to being a broadcaster, there is a clear conflict in giving content to them for free (or for the promise of ever reducing ad revenues).

But what if you already have a load of content on YouTube ? Well, Rights Tracker has just introduced an easy way for you to transfer this content to your own professional managed account on Assetry Screen, where you will have secure control over all of your content.

All you have to do is enter a YouTube URL and the system will do the rest for you! Better still, you can add any valid video URL and the system will ingest and prepare your video for you.

It's never been easier to cut the YouTube cord and move your cloud video strategy to the next level.

A Gold Medal For Rights

With the 2016 Olympics in full flow, perhaps the most tightly guarded rights in the world come into mainstream play.

The IOC is, above all, a rights holder, and therefore needs to keep a tight rein on how it allows its rights to be used in the era of social media.

It has issued extensive guidelines, which start with the words: "the IOC actively encourages and supports athletes and other accredited persons at the Olympic Games to take part in 'social media'."

It then goes on to issue four pages of restrictions on this 'encouragement': 

Still, to be fair to the IOC, they have made their position public and clear.

Of course, managing and enforcing these rights is tougher and the IOC enforce something called penumberal rights. These include the five Olympic rings logo, the Olympics motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius, the Paralympic Agitos logo, the flames and terms like "Olympic games", "Paralympic games"' "Rio 2016" as well as "games”, “Two Thousand and Sixteen”, “2016” and “twenty sixteen”) and a second group (“gold”, “silver”, “bronze”, “Rio”, “medals”, “sponsor”, and “summer”.

The above enable the IOC's representatives to threaten civil and even criminal sanctions on anyone they deem to be in contravention. At London 2012 these included a butcher near the sailing venue who had fashioned sausages into the form of the Olympic rings and a long established cafe called the Olympic near the main stadium in East London.

However, even a cursory search of social media shows their guidelines being breached in a wholesale manner. DMCA provisions mean that a lot of illegal material can hit the internet legally. But, the IOC are doing one thing right in response - they are flooding social media with official content.

Managing rights isn't just about being protective in the social media era, it's about being proactive. The internet hates a vacuum, so just withholding and restricting rights no longer works. 

So, on rights, a gold medal to the IOC, then, for a job well done.

A New Way Of Selling TV

In most industries, the internet has brought huge efficiencies and, sometimes a new world order. From travel agents to record stores, the effects have been sweeping, and are still going on for industries like taxis and hotel rooms.

But the TV industry seems not to have noticed. Well, not much anyway. Massive new customers have appeared for programme makers in the form of Netflix, Amazon and other online streaming services. But the selling is still largely done by personal contact at events such as Cannes, NATPE, MIPTV and MIPCOM.

But the time has come for this to change. 

The internet has proven itself to be an effective means of showing high quality video and for building global marketplaces.

Finally, there's a platform that combines these capabilities, providing a global marketplace for content owners and producers.

Assetry Screen from rights management experts Rights Tracker provides an easy to use platform for preparing, managing and distributing content to potential clients in a closed and highly secure online marketplace.

It enables content owners to create video websites, online screening rooms, players and branded channels. Distributors, producers and broadcasters can upload and manage assets, create screening lists, set permissions, and invite contacts to view.

The TV content industry is going to experience a revolution over the next few years and Assetry Screen enables content owners and producers to get ahead of the curve.


Vevo Is The Music Industry's Secret Weapon

A musician currently gets around eight times less if their song is played on YouTube than they do if played on Spotify and, not surprisingly, are finally asking -'why?'.

Artists as such as Taylor Swift, Kate Perry, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie and Rod Stewart are petitioning for change (there goes my playlists...) and negotiations are onging between the industry and the Google video service.

Common wisdom has it that musicians need YouTube more than YouTube needs musicians, but is this actually true any more ?

A service owned by the music industry, Vevo, actually provides over half of the music video plays on YouTube and has other outlets such as its own apps for Smart TV and mobiles.

There's little doubt that other major online players from Apple to Facebook and even Twitter and the Verizon owned AOL are keen to break the YouTube monopoly.

As a result, Vevo is a very valuable property that might do best by staring a bidding war between these players, or setting a minimum royalty level for any service taking its videos, ostensibly becoming a clearing service and agent for the digital age. 

There is one factor complicating this, which is that YouTube hides behind DMCA legislation (which has recently been strengthened by judicial decisions) and can keep playing any music video until it receives a take down request, without sanction. Whilst YouTube was a hosting service, this was perhaps defensible, but today it is a content producer and broadcaster in its own right. But it has this safe harbour provision behind it in negotiating rates for musicians downwards. Spotify does not have this luxury, nor do traditional broadcasters.

Artists need to put their money where their mouths are and pull their copyright from YouTube to strengthen their case and then use Vevo as their trump card.

Brexit & The Media Industry

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Someone asked me yesterday what Brexit would mean for the media industry. It's something I've written and talked about here and there, but the actual consequences now that this eventuality has befallen us demands greater consideration.

First of all, there's the macro economic climate. The pound is weak and tax is being lowered, meaning that investing in the UK becomes cheaper and discourages buying from abroad.

However, from all the discussions I've had, the psychological impact of the divorce from the EU will put off potential partners not just from Europe but around the world. I keep on hearing the phrase 'little Englanders' from all kinds of people dismayed at the outcome of the referendum. It does not bode well.

However, the break up will derail the grand plan to make the EU one market for content, which was set to hit the rights industry very badly. This also has the added benefit of keeping things complicated for the US Big Internet companies trying to take over the media industry. As proposals stood, they could have waved their chequebooks and pretty much bought or wiped out the whole media sector in Europe in the straight-to-streaming (STS) era.

The fact that the UK will not be signing up to TTIP for the near future is also a book to our creative companies and will give them breathing room to try and compete again with US companies. Moreover, already the tax regime seems to be levelling out after the Chancellor's announcement on reducing Corporation Tax.

Pretty much every major UK media company has already been taken over by major US players, and they are likely to be impacted - Liberty Global and Virgin Media had firm plans to build pan-European businesses, ready for the time when sports rights for most of the continent would be sold as a block. They will continue to have to treat the UK, the most lucrative of all markets, as a separate entity, which means that footballers' agents will be dragging on their cigars at the Leave vote.

Meanwhile, the move may well take ITV off the marketplace, since it will prove to be a somewhat less attractive stepping stone to pan European ambitions for the likes of Discovery and even Comcast.

The BBC is also probably in a better place, with its future already recently settled, it would be difficult to see any UK politician daring to undermine our national treasures for the foreseeable future.

The UK has a tradition of heavily subsidising the creative industries, from the promotion of local TV stations to tax breaks on film investment, and with the 'austerity government' coming to an end it's likely that there will need to be further inducements in the future to 'make up' for the effects of losing EU funding, such as it is. The media industry needs to be lobbying heavily as soon as the UK has an effective Government again.

It's difficult to predict what will happen to cross border productions: this is already a mishmash or regional, national and pan European funding. Obviously, in time, the European funding will go away. However, the UK is the stepping stone to the global English language market so it's difficult to see a major impact here, although some producers and distributors dependent on EU sources of funding have been distraught.

Movement of actors and talent will become more problematic, especially for UK talent wanting to film or work overseas. But more important will be that recruiting staff for developing web and mobile will become tougher unless the UK stops churning out graduates who cannot code.

Also, it's worth considering things far more difficult to quantify and predict. The zeitgeist of the media industry is made up of millions of moving parts and they have been thrown into a state of turmoil. There will be a creative backlash without doubt, although it is depressing how un-political the media industry has become. Perhaps that will change on the back of the ill-founded will of the British democratic process.

Channel Rights Set For Revamp

Stories are circulating that the Government is set to repeal section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, which means that cable companies (that would be Virgin Media by now) do not have to oay ca riage fees to national channels such as ITV and Channel 4. It's more than possible that this provision will be extended to Sky also.

The resulting situation might see the BBC and ITV getti paid for their channels on cable and satellite, but with a significant distribution cost on internet delivery.

Whereas there is a fair amount written about rights around programmes and TV brands, little has been said about the rights of whole channels (or apps, or services, or whatever we should call them these days.

Could the logical conclusion be that the likes of Netflix become the carriers and pay ITV and the BBC to add their content to their lineup ?

Or will it result in the concept of a channel bis coming irrelevant, with TV broadcasters more akin to publishers, expoliting their rights across multiple distribution channels and seeking the best return from each.

One thing is for rtain, it's going to be an uncertain and rocky ride for every comoany involved in the TV delivery ecosystem.

Safe Haven In Any Storm

In 2009 Capitol Records sued Vimeo over copyright infringement, and in yet another example of how slowly the legal process moves, the case was last week dismissed in Vimeo's favour, citing the DMCA again, but seemingly broadening its interpretation in favour of service providers.

Essentially the ruling upholds the key tenet of the Act, that unknowingly hosting content without the necessary rights clearances is not illegal, provided the hosting company then takes down the infringing media. But in this instance it was ruled that the law was on Vimeo's side even though some of its staff were aware of the infringements and may have even posted them themselves. The rationale, seemingly is that these were a tiny part of the service's overall content.

There are a number of troubling elements to this judgement, perhaps the most important being how modern publishers such as Google, Apple and Vimeo obfuscate their roles as publishers and circumvent regulatory scrutiny as a result. Imagine if CBS had broadcast a show to which it had no rights and then argued that it was sorry and anyway, it was inly a small part of its output.

Ironically, this is a similar argument to Uber not employing its drivers and Air BnB not being a hotel company.

The DCMA has been essential in enabling the internet to flourish, but it should protect genuine arm's length businesses such as ISPs not companies that compete directly with broadcasters and publishers.

Why Do We Put Up With Mayfly TV ?

It's a wet bank holiday Sunday and I'm thoroughly enjoying the SWALEC finals on S4C. But, as more and more of the top rugby rights get swallowed up by the pay TV channels, why can't S4C's two channels, or BBC3 or 4 before 7pm be used to show such secondary sports. Or is there scope for a dedicated channel for rugby or for secondary sports ?

Worse than the lack of coverage is the fact that almost no sports is available on demand after it happens (beyond highlights packages). It drives me bonkers in the box set era.

There's nowhere I can pay a quid to watch Saturday's Saracens v Northampton or Munster v Ospreys on a Tuesday evening. The games have been covered and produced at huge cost but then fall into some great dark rights hole, never to be seen again.

The same goes for even Premiership football games. As ephemeral as a mayfly.

Sports in the UK (and in most other markets in the world) needs a Dave TV. Sports rights holders are leaving a significant amount of cash on the table...

Whole Lotta Rights..

You'd think that a rights dispute over two songs written nearly half a century ago would not be the kind of thing that should perturb rock heroes as they enter their twilight years, but think again.

The latest example to hit the headlines is the dispute between Randy California (of Spirit fame) and the possibly the greatest rock band of all time, Led Zeppelin. And it's not some vague track that's in contention, but the first complicated riff that any aspiring guitar player learns - the opening part from Stairway to Heaven.

A judge in California has ruled that there may have been an infringement (Spirit and Led Zeppelin played twice together before Page & Plant wrote the anthem).

You can judge for your self with this excellent analysis by www.tjrmusic.com :

You can really hear the similarity, but, boy, you can go through the history of music and find example after example. There was the recent ballyhoo about Adele 'borrowing' Hello from Lionel Ritchie, and even the famous Kansas/Journey and George Harrison/Chiffons spats go all the way back. There's even a website dedicated to plagiarism (sorry, alleged plagiarism mashups): http://songsalike.com/

And this is even without looking at how sampling has worked its way into modern music.

But the real issue here is that music rights are in danger of ending up in the same place as patent rights, where interpretations, especially in the US, have been far too wide and given rise to a whole industry of patent infringement trolls who make the lawyers featured in Better Call Saul seem nice and sensible.

Ironically, artists and songwriters seem reluctant to sue each other, perhaps realising that there's only so much originality that you can get from 12 notes. But, where there's a right, there's a claim and as artists from the golden age of rock come to pass, there are plenty of relatives, estate managers and attorneys who are more than willing to turn over old rocks (so to speak) and dig for gold.

The Right Word

One of the challenges of working with any kind of intellectual property is that one man's film is another man's movie. But, what's in a word?

Well quite a bit. Possibly as much as a few billion dollars to owners of intellectual properties, so please bear with me on this.

Using different terminologies makes it difficult to equate two properties or rights. Indeed, they may have different meanings, especially when moving between jurisdictions. And as difficult as they are for humans to codify, it becomes an even greater issue when you ask computers to deal with the tautology.

This is one of the major reasons why it has taken so long to introduce efficient marketplaces for rights, in our view. But for the past three years at Rights Tracker we've had a project aimed at tackling this.

You can break the issues down into two: let's call them IP Types and Metadata.

Very often a property is made up of a collection of rights and assets and these can be arranged in a hierarchy - this is what we call IP Types.

For example, you may have a Brand such as Harry Potter, this then has Books, the Books have Versions (e.g. for different languages). In turn these IP Types can have Assets such as Chapters, Illustrations and Photographs.

Then consider a TV programme where you may have Title, Versions, Series, Episode, with the Episode made up of multiple Video, Image, Music and Document assets.

We're currently building a rights management system for a major pharma company, and here the IP Types are even more extensive with IP Types such as Graphs.

Code snippets, electronic components, drug ingredients are all potential IP Types.

Now you can start to realize the implications of IP Type management, which us why we have spent so much time, effort and brain power addressing this area.

Our resulting project to manage and codify this has resulted in the following developments.

First of all, we create an IP Type and this has fixed or variable Properties. Then, you can Label this (film or movie, for example) and place it in a Hierarchy, defining its Relationships with other IP Types.

Another dimension to this is that every IP Type has its own metadata, and there is very little standardization of this even within industries, although the rise of XML has seen this situation improve.

Our approach is to enable standardized metadata schema to be used, using a minimum data set, e.g. Movie Title, Movie Description, Movie Issue Date, Tags and then to make this extensible.

This keeps the data portable and interchangeable.

We've now introduced the above concepts to our rights and asset management platform, Assetry. This means that we can not only enable any specific IP Type model, but can also make this interchangeable and matchable between organizations. This in turn has the huge benefit of enabling us to not only help our customers to deliver content more effectively, as we do for the Press Association and their daily news video feeds, for example, but also to enable trading in these properties in real time.

This may all sound esoteric, but we believe that the results will facilitate new money making and money saving opportunities to anyone involved in managing intellectual property.

Get in touch with us if you'd like to hear more.

Broken Windows, Lost Chances

Netflix was snubbed when it offered $2.5million more than Fox Searchlight for the rights to The Birth of a Nation at Sundance. This was because it wanted to release online at the same time as cinemas. The producers obviously thought that appealing to popcorn munchers had more value. Managing release windows has become quite an art. At Rights Tracker we think it should be much more a science.

The historical background to this goes way back to the evolution of cinema as a medium. Once upon a time Hollywood majors were vertically integrated. They owned the studios, the movie making machinery plus the cinemas. They even owned the stars, to the degree that DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin created their own studio (United Artists) until this was subsumed back into the system.

Films would be released in the US first and then the time expensive prints would be shipped to other English language markets such as the UK (which is why you could always view cinema movies in France with their subtitled prints before you could in UK cinemas). This was the beginning of 'windowing', or the creation of specific rights windows that could be individually exploited.
The coming of television saw these rights extended to TV, but well after the cinema release had ended.

But then came recorded media, first in the form of VHS and then DVDs. This presented more windows of opportunities, which now went Cinema - VHS - TV. There were also some minor parallel markets such as hotel entertainment systems and in flight viewing.

At the same time, the international market became more complex and languages and dubbing continued to add further dimensions to the rights available to exploit.

It was this increase in complexity of the rights selling market which resulted in the founding of our company, Rights Tracker. Our initial desktop systems helped TV sales houses to make the most of their films and programs.

But the world moves on and what already seemed like a bewildering range of rights opportunities has increased further with the introduction of the internet and cloud platforms. The number of possible permutations are nearly endless.

This has had a positive impact for rights owners by opening up new rights opportunities for platforms such as Netflix, but has brought the negative impact of piracy and an ease of copying and distributing which was unthought-of when the original cinema model was developed. Now global releases at the same time are a must for some high profile TV releases such as a new season of Game of Thrones.

Of course, the distribution model is also more complex now with few vertically integrated players in the mode of the old studio model (Comcast is perhaps the best current example).

Rights windows are now far, far more complex and it isn't difficult to see a day when rights owners will begin using artificial intelligence to figure out how to maximize their sales. Indeed, we are already looking at this opportunity at Rights Tracker, along with how the power of the cloud can be used to leverage maximizing revenues from rights windows.

Spot Selling

There is nothing more ridiculous in modern media than musicians' beef with Spotify.

Spotify pays them more than radio, per listener, and significantly more than YouTube does per viewer.

Indeed, the music industry must be the only industry where you give away more than your product to sell your main product. The pop promo or music video contains the soundtrack plus some expensive visuals, but the soundtrack has no visuals. But musicians do not seem to see this as contradictory.

The music industry is following the lead of the TV industry in needing active management of distribution across release windows, platforms and territories.

But this is more of an art than a skill and the result can mean millions of pounds lost or gained, or even whole careers.

Major Changes Ahead For European Media

There are major changes coming to the European media industry thanks to a trio of new initiatives laid out by the European Commission.

They are going to push for better access to digital goods and services across borders by introducing harmonised consumer and contract rules, with more efficient and affordable parcel delivery, tackling geo-blocking, modernising copyright law and simplifying VAT arrangements. In other words the likes of Amazon and Netflix will be dealing with one country, not twenty eight. But they are likely to have to charge VAT and possibly even pay some corporate tax. For content owners this is bad news since they will be able to sell into one market not twenty eight. It will particularly impact on sports rights, which shows why companies like Sky and Liberty have been investing in building pan European networks.

Secondly, the EC is to tackle issues related to digital networks, reviewing  current telecoms and media rules to encourage investment in infrastructure, work towards a unified European approach to spectrum management and look at how to strengthen trust in online services through more transparency and the swift removal of illegal content. It also called for the quick adoption of new data protection rules. This means that the big networks will become even bigger monopolies and it will make it far more difficult for new entrants to enter the market since they will need to invest in pan European infrastructure.

Finally, the Commission is to promote a European digital economy by promoting interoperability of technologies, tackling issues related to unlocking the potential of big data, and promoting government e-services. The theory is that you can create European tech giants like Google, Facebook, Uber or Air BnB. The reality is that regulation is the barrier to these companies, and the example the UK is showing with driverless cars and drone deliveries is the approach that is needed, not more blanket red tape.

In recent years the EC has done good work in harmonising mobile roaming charges, but surely the first priority in achieving all of the above objectives is ensuring that all citizens have good, reliable broadband access ? The danger with the above is that it encourages massive multinationals and actually makes it much easier for US companies to take over the parts of the European media industry they don't already own.

May we live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse says...

It's Not Rights

Well, it's only Wednesday and it's already a week where media rights are making all the headlines.

First of all Jeremy Clarkson allegedly punches a Producer who forgot to get him a hot dinner and one of the most lucrative brands in television is thrown into disarray. Top Gear is a franchise worth hundreds of millions between the programme sales, format sales, publicstions, DVDs, live shows and licensing and merchandising and is owned by the BBC and sold commercially by BBC Worldwide. Ironically they bought the format off Jeremy Clarkson a couple of years ago.

Then there was the shock ruling that Pharrell Williams / Robin Thicke "Blurred Lines" track had plagarised Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up", potentially opening the floodgates for other similar claims that might mire the music industry in rights litigation for decades.

It is ironic that despite their importance, rights are so poorly understood or covered outside the negotiations for Premiership TV and other top sports events and regular stories on piracy. However, as more and more media assets are virtualised and exist only as a feed from the cloud, the ability to effectively manage rights is going to be even more important. This extends from the exploitation of rights in the most effective way to the policing of the usage of the rights.

And this does not just affect the media industry, but other sectors such as electronics manufacturing (I wonder how many third party rights there are to the iPad on which I am writing this post) and pharmaceuticals.