Video Drives Success On The Internet

I don't necessarily totally agree with the analysis of, but they're a very clever bunch and this is food for thought, if nothing more.

What is interesting is that all of the major players in 2018 apart from Paypal and Wikimedia are making plays for the video market. Many of them are video first companies. And it's surprising how many of them are traditional media giants who have finally got to grip with the digital age.

We think that disrupting, in the era of Uber, AirBnB and Deliveroo is easy. But no one has seriously disrupted the TV market. YouTube and Roku have had impacts, but nothing compared to what Apple's iTunes and Spotify and Pandora have done to the music industry.

Yesterday's broadcasters are today's streamers. And notice that neither Hulu nor Netflix make the grade.

The difference between TV and everything else is rights. You can usurp rides, bedrooms and takeaways, but finding a way of usurping rights is much tougher, as YouTube proves. Yes, it's apparently a hugely successful service, but it has very little content of real value. It simply aggregates lots of content of low value, delivers an audience and monetizes it.

That's very different from creating Game Of Thrones or House Of Cards.

Creating properties with lots of complex rights, whether they be phones, software platforms or programming is difficult and involves ecosystems and industries that are difficult to break down.

Investors have always seen the value of IP, but it is the rights in the best box sets and sports properties, as well as children's 'brands', esports and other visual 'brands' that will drive success on the internet in the future. Connectivity is already commoditiesed for urban dwellers and channels have long lost value.

How do you balance what you pay for rights against what you get for them ? There are highly complex models for financial trading, but hardly any consideration is ever given to the content rights market, worth hundreds of billions...

Why OTT Avoids Sports

In my travels through the television world it's interesting to note the plapable sense of panic that pervades the industry.

Everyone recognises that we live in a 'golden age' for television, where even big Hollywood stars yearn for the next small screen gig, but underlying this is a real sense of unease.

In an era where massive amounts of venture money is proping up a slew of new ventures, an industry that has resisted the coming of the internet is finally facing seismic changes.

Linear television and schedules are finally fading away and apps are the new channels.

There is nothing to stop content generators from becoming media empires, as the like of Vice have shown (before they were gobbled up by a bigger media empire).

But the great danger of this new model is disintermediation.

Time and again I have been involved in projects that involved right holders going directly to audiences, and with a few notable examples, in most cases they have failed. The reality is that those who are good at telling stories and producing great content are pretty bad at marketing them and building audiences. They depend on existing platforms, from the BBC to Netflix, to do this for them.

And with surging valuations and ever increasing budgets from these middle men, who can blame them for avoiding trying to build their own distribution platforms ?

Of course there are a some new player such as fubo TV and Premier TV who are seeking to carve a place in this ultra competitive niche - one by aggregating and the other by acquiring more minor rights.

Meanwhile the platforms themselves - broadcasters in old parlance - are in a dog fight to the death. In the UK a cross party group of MPs are seeking to protect the BBC from Netflix and its ilk. There is consolidation and merger at every turn. Even Rupert Murdoch had to admit that his Fox and Sky television empire was too small to survive.

At the core of this is rights price inflation. This, of course, first manifested itself with soccer where cable company Sky bet the company on over paying for rights in order to build a customer base. Their punt paid off handsomely. But it's interesting to note how few sports rights have been bought out by the new platforms. Netflix has some sports documentaries, Google has toyed with a few minor cricket rights and Amazon is focusing on tennis, where rights are far more affordable.

These are data driven companies. Their growth and success is down as much to algorithms as to the gut feel of commissioning editors and marketing departments, and the cost of sports rights makes no sense at all to them in their current form.

This, then leaves the market open for the likes of Disney and Comcast (who now own Sky) and even terrestrial players. For the time being anyway.

OTT is based on apps and AI and drives engagement via alerts and emails. Traditional TV is left with dancing and baking shows, which are still working well. Where the two worlds meet is the blockbuster mini series (usually crime based). Ironically nearly all of the big hits on Netflix and Prime were produced by the likes of ABC Studios, A&M and the BBC.

And this is where the sports and entertainment rights markets really diverge. There is heavy integration between both the OTT and TV distributors and production companies - often via ownership, but, with the exception of certain properties such as Formula 1, there remains a clear gap between sports rights holders and distributors.

I predict that this is where we are going to see some major changes in the near future as the market for sporting rights corrects itself.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences (Part 17)

So the EU has voted through its new copyright bill. As Chair of a leading Rights management software company I’m rubbing my hands with glee, but as someone who pontificates endlessly about the Internet, I’m rather more hesitant.

Essentially the legislation says that you have to get someone’s permission to use their ‘work’, however available or succinct it is.

Theoretically Flipboard and Apple News will be breaking the law with every page of their services unless they come to an agreement with the rights holders.

Equally, if your son or daughter uses an image off the internet for a school project that is not explicitly cleared you will be in line for a massive fine and possibly jail time (it is not yet clear how the directive will pass into law in member countries).

The legislation was aimed at Big Internet, but those companies shrug it off knowing that they already have deals in place with most major content owners at ridiculous rates.

So, as ever, the EU has unintendedly made life worse for ordinary people and better for Big Internet.

As far as I can tell the only effect of GDPR were more annoying pop ups on every site and nothing in the way of greater protection for users.

When the UK finally leaves the EU, it has the opportunity to pass much better considered laws. But don’t hold your breath....

Meanwhile, we have some great cloud based rights management software you can subscribe to in order to manage all of your new liabilities!

The Studio System Lives On

After decades involved in the creative industries, I think this is one of the most interesting graphs I have ever seen. It comes from a report that is well worth downloading if you work in the creative industries.

But the graph does not show that just 12% of the revenue mapped filters down to musicians (although the amount that is also paid in publishing rights to composers is somewhat obfuscated).

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when there were still 'pluggers' and 'promoters' I ran a small music publishing and record company and I can truly believe the fraction quoted. Citi seems to think that this has gone up, which does not surprise me - I once signed over a band to MCA on a 7% cut that weas considered generous in the 80s.

When you see this, it makes so much sense to become Stock Aitken Waterman or Netflix - studios owning and controlling its own properties. It is why Chaplin, Fairbanks, DW Griffith and Pickford set up United Artists in the early days of Hollywood to control their output and interests.

Maker Studios became the first great YouTube aggregator and was quickly snapped up by Disney.

At TV Everywhere we're working with modern day social media studios who are replicating a similar model.

Many have mooted blockchain as a way of disrupting this, but life seems to need its intermediaries. Woolworths and Sears have become Amazon.

Being an intermediary - or wholesaler - online is a great gig with all the protection that the DCMA provides.

And this is where Apple missed a trick. They failed to vertically integrate, seeing themselves as a distribution platform (or, arguably, monopoly). Meanwhile Spotify and Netflix stole their advantage. And also, arguably, are much better for artists. YouTube has a similar predicament and is belatedly trying to turn itself into a studio without becoming a studio, since that would bring regulation, and Google has made a virtue of making a lot of money by exploiting asymetry in regulations and taxation.

And as traditional 'placement' advertising dies, brands will need to become studios too (great news for our RIghts Tracker division which is already working with companies such as Red Bull and agencies such as WPP).

Nothing really changes. But maybe we can get 15% to those musicians by 2025 unless Big Music is taken over by Big Internet....

Good On Yer, Cobber..

The idea of a 'safe port' for the world's trillion dollar companies is, by now, ridiculous. The DCMA did a huge amount for the internet, but also proved that the best intentions are badly placed.

As someone who was there at the coalface, on reflection, I am not sure if it was a good thing. All it seemed to facilitate was replacing an old set of monopolists with a new set of monopolists.

So, the news today that Australian courts have finally recognised that YouTube is a broadcaster is very welcome. They have been afforded massive legal breaks by playing the 'we are just an intermediary' card for years.

If you think about it, a broadcaster is just an intermediary. They buy rights for programmes (and sometimes make them theirselved, like Facebook) and then distribute them.

So, how is Gooogle different to Sky or Comcast ? And why are they regulated differently ?

The decade old sychophancy towards Big Internet finally seems to be over, but only because of the abuses that they have committed on their users (and the many malfecances that are yet to surface).

The real problem is monopolies have been using their power to not only generate huge amounts of cash, but to buy their way into new marketplaces, such as TV.

To see a court finally treat Big Internet appropriately is reassuring, but the US, EU and UK need to follow suite.

No company should have more than 25% market share without paying commensurate taxes to pay for their monopolistic position in my view.

The money raised from Amazon and Google can be used to subsidise local business rates for small shops.

Equally, the likes of Netflix and Amazon can contribute to original UK productions instead of pilling us with Scandi noir and US programmes.

Rights & Blockchain (Part 2)

After looking at some of the weaknesses of the current blockchain model in being applied to the rights industry, this part of the article looks at other considerations and put forward some technical approaches that may overcome these issues.

At Rights Tracker we have been working on these issues for over a decade and already have API and SSO solutions in place which can be used to develop blockchain type models for rights.

Before going into these technical solutions there are further issues that need to be considered.

Perhaps the most contentious of these is the accountability of blockchain. A distributed model has clear advantages, but a major element of this is hiding any transactions from relevant authorities. Over the past couple of weeks in the US, the IRS has been paying specific attention to cryptocurrency traders and it is likely, where they can be identified, some traders will be liable for significant tax bills (in the US cryptocurrencies are regarded as property and are therefore liable to capital gains taxes).

Another more sinister revelation that has emerged from an academic study of the Bitcoin ledger in recent days is that it contains child pornography. Yes, you read correctly: you can encapsulate URLs and even small files within the blockchain and, once there, is nearly impossible to remove.

And here's the rub. A decentralised, un-policed system is likely to result in bad people doing bad things with impunity.

As a result, we do not believe that a fully decentralised model is viable for rights management.

Rather we would propose an asynchrous two tier model made up of a distributed transactional model with a further certification network, made up of licensing authorities, law firms and other regulated and approved bodies.

This is not dissimilar to how internet security, such as SSL, is currently deployed with a network of certification authorities issuing licences to be used across a variety of applications.

This model could then be extended by using distributed blockchain to log usage. So, a musician could issue and manage their own contributions. After participating in a recording session, for example, they could sign the related blockchain and, assigning their rights and ensuring that these rights could then be tracked wherever the track was used.

If the track is subsequently used for a film soundtrack, the correct rights payment would filter back to the artist and could even be used for micropayments on a pay per play basis - something that is phenomenally difficult to track today as shown by the issues facing collection agencies.

As part of this there would need to be an agreed model for rights.

The model we have developed at Rights Tracker is a multi-tiered system with rights dimensions such as type, platform, window, language, territory, etc..

This can be used to ascertain the available rights and then construct a rights transaction.

The rights transaction would further contain details of any contributory rights, for example musicians or composers on a music track, and financial details.

Calculating the above takes considerable processing power, many, many times more complex than calculating cryptocurrency transactions. And, as has already been seen in the cryptocurrency world, a fully distributed model has given way to a specialised layer of processing (somewhat ironically called 'mining' in the funny money business) since the data processing is too much for an average home PC to tackle.

Rights Tracker already has a calculation engine and API for this model in place and we intend to commercialise this facility over the coming months offering both a cloud based, centralised processing facility and as a deployable model for organisations wishing to run their own processing.

We'd be delighted to hear from anyone interested in working on this with us.

Rights & Blockchain (Part 1)

There is nothing subject to greater hype than cryptocurrencies at the moment. Anyone seems to be able to make up their own funny money and see the value skyrocket.

Underlying this ability is a technology which is not new, but is very interesting, with a wide range of potential legitimate applications well beyond the ability to enable crooks to separate idiots from their money.

Blockchain works by using a distributed ledger, or copy, of all transactions held within its chain. So, if there are 10 Dits (I just made that up), then everyone will have a file telling them that there are 10 Dits.

If someone then buys something with 2 Dits, then this will be registered and there will be a record of the total plus this transaction (eg 10: 8-2). If someone then uses one of the 2 Dits they have been paid to buy something else, this will be added to the ledger (10: 8-2: 2-1). You get the rough idea.

Now cryptocurrencies bring in the ludicrous notion of ‘mining’. They do this by randomly rewarding one of the ledger holders for calculating transactions. (This has resulted in people behaviour such as hacking networks to use them as miners and setting up massively unproductive and hugely wasteful data centres to mine for ‘money’ that is not real.

By now you have probably realised that I am not a fan of cryptocurrencies: it will end very badly for those at the bottom of these Ponzi schemes.

But I am very bullish on the underlying technologies, albeit with many provisos.

I am especially keen to see it applied to the industry I am involved in, namely rights management.

Rights management is a catch all for a wide range of things, from how you make money from innovations and patents, to how you pay for using photos on your website or brochure.

Every business uses rights every day.

When you read this article you are deploying a massive number of rights, from those in the screen of your computer, tablet or phone to the processor parsing this data, to the browser that makes these words readable.

When you build a website for your business you are using platforms and code (which is often shareware or open source), words and pictures, all of which may be free, but you are using someone’s rights (those rights holders may be seeking to cover the costs of their rights through advertising or upselling if what you are using is currently free).

But most rights, from the components of pharma drugs to the OEM manufacture of a laptop carry paid for rights, and this is where blockchain become useful.
Rights are created, granted and used as part of a complex ecosystem (or chain), which suggests that blockchain is well worth exploring as a means to better manage this complicated, ongoing set of relationships.

So, let’s look at how blockchain might be used in the context of managing and paying for rights.

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that there is a built in dichotomy in rights.

Right sellers want to ‘slice and dice’ rights into the smallest offerings available, whereas right buyers want to buy as many rights as possible (as cheaply as possible).

This is the reason why sports coverage is often spread across several channels - as well as splitting rights by territory, language, availability window and type of rights, you can also offer packages of rights.

There are other complications, such as dependencies. One work may be the result of many rights: for example, a music track has a writer, performers, but also publishers and distributors. Add the track to a movie and you begin to see the complexities that arise.

Compared to this, using blockchain to buy and sell coffee, or even shares, is very simplistic, so the traditional model forms an initial building block, but is far from fit for purpose for rights management.

So, if blockchain is to be relevant to rights industries, the core challenge is to build a blockchain model that encompasses this complexity and builds upon current simplistic blockchain models. This is what we have been working on at Rights Tracker.

There are a number of specific issues to deal with: for example, transactions in the media world are often not absolute. The seepage in deals is tremendous due to the complexity, whereas blockchain by definition is absolute.

There is another issue. Value generation. Cryptocurrency models like Bitcoin have a theoretic absolute issuance (not the same as value) built into them. This has several potential weaknesses, including making the cryptocurrency either valueless or badly inflating its value if the mining period comes to an end (a bit like the death of an artist).
Indeed, the blockchain model currently adopted for cryptocurrencies is pretty shitty if you apply any kind of economic logic. Rights deals are highly fluid and are often derivated from other rights, eg a presenter may be paid an annual salary: how do you therefore allocate her contribution to a single TV show and pay accordingly ?

There are also fundamental technical issues with the current blockchain models. Currently a single ledger entry for Bitcoin stands at around 180GB and is increasing daily by several hundred MB. Pretty soon the ledger will be too big for most domestic computer hard drives and the cost of storing billions of copies of the same ledger is hugely wasteful of resources, although nothing compared to the wastage in mining Bitcoin and its ilk.

Therefore, it would make more sense to have a hub and spoke model with a centralised, but trusted registry. For example, distributing the licence rather than the data makes a lot more sense in processing and network terms.

Then there is the question of adoption. To build any market you need buyers and sellers and, as we pointed out above, the two really have conflicting objectives in the rights models they adopt. There are, by now, hundreds of cryptocurrencies based on nothing more than thin air and such a fragmented model would do nothing for the rights industry. For blockchain to be relevant to the rights industry the model, models and ecosystems need to be interoperable. Everyone will accept a dollar, few, even now, will accept a bitcoin.

Most current proposed rights blockchain models are simply about gathering revenue, so are ridiculously simplistic and would actually offer little value to artists - there are already collection societies to do this, albeit highly inefficiently.

There need to be three conceptual mechanisms in place: rules, policing and payment.

Building and setting rules based on an agreed model comes first. A viable model able to accommodate complex rights models with multiple rights dimensions within a rights chain would need to be established and agreed. This throws up unexpected challenges such as ‘what is a territory?’. This is the problem that we gave been working on at Rights Tracker for over a decade and we now have a tried and tested model in use by organisations as diverse as the British Library and Glaxo SmithKlein. We are currently making this accessible via an API accessible to any organisation, platform of system from a photo library to a marketing department.

Policing is not a problem we address. But in automating and using cloud based platforms, it is far easier to be accountable. You never know how often a TV station in Africa is showing your programme, but you can get detailed viewing stats from Amazon on who is watching your show on Prime, or from Spotify on who is listening to your track.

As delivery becomes more and more automated, it becomes easier to police. Of course, tracking how many people who were at a gig where a band played your song that you should receive payments for is a more complex problem, but we’re already seeing a network of startups and innovative companies who are likely to become part of this policing infrastructure and result in better data gathering and therefore more accurate payment distribution.

Payment is something that is, in our view, sorted. If a transaction has a value, you then need to calculate that value, terms and currency (and perhaps distribute any taxes or residual payments) and then trigger the release of the relevant payment.

If the model above was fully adopted and deployed across the creative industries (and even in manufacturing), blockchain could open up a hugely valuable new market for rights and break current monopolies such as Apple and Amazon. Any work might be available for anyone else to use - a sampled riff could be included in the blockchain of a derivative song, for example. You could use any image off the web and the photographer would receive a micropayment. The possibilities and opportunities are endless.

But there remain a number of important issues to address, including:

·       How would you validate who owns the original right; ie how would you create and maintain a register of rights ? We’ve been doing some very interesting work around this area with clients such as the British Library recently.
·       Would you use an uncertified model with the weaknesses described above, or create a hybrid model with some centralised certification authorities ?
·       How could you get everyone to buy into and to adopt such an ecosystem when it will clearly be in the interest of some parties not to do so ?
·       How would blockchain help a musician get more money from YouTube, for example (and why does YouTube pay so much less for rights than Spotify) ?

This is the first of two articles by Iolo Jones, Chairman of Rights Tracker and CEO of TV Everywhere on the subject of using blockchain for rights management. The second will look more specifically at how to tackle the technical challenges.

No IP in EU

You would think that the very first and most straightforward thing that the EU could have done was to introduce a unified approach to IP, patents and rights. Fifty years on they are hawking sticky plasters. Above is a map of the transferrability of IP rights - purple is good, red is bad, yellow is so so.

A ‘unified’ IP approach does not include Europe’s biggest pirates, Spain. It does include the country with most counterfeiting, Italy and the two biggest consumers of IP, Germany and the UK are only half ‘in’.

What a mess. 

No Single Market For Rights

So, the EU has backed down and is not going to create a single market for TV and sports rights (apart from news).

This is a sensible decision for those who make a living from producing Scandy noir, French art house cinema or British format TV, but bad for consumers. Regular readers of this blog will know that I railed against the proposals, largely from self interest for our rights holding customers, but also to stop the further erosion of the European TV and film industry in the face of an onslaught from US Big Internet. (It does, however, show how flawed the very idea of the EU is - there may be single markets in some things, but there isn't for tax, pensions or rights.)

It also shows that rights management is not going to get any easier - having multiple tiers of legislation in world with multiplying distribution opportunities makes things complex, to say the least.

Meanwhile, the FCC has put forward plans to dismantle net neutrality in the US. A very fragmented marketplace is evolving for delivering content.

The FCC's proposals would open the way for every ISP and cableco to charge OTT providers for delivering their service (with some justification since they have put in place the expenditure to enable the delivery of the content in the first place). So, sell your Netflix shares and buy some in AT&T...

Even in Europe, the IPS remain the gatekeepers, albeit having to respect the rules of net neutrality (don't expect the EU to turn their back on this any time soon).

So, it's hardly surprising how much integration there has been between service providers and content producers recently (Comcast/NBCU, AT&T/TimeWarner (blocked), Liberty Media/F1, etc..).

And, hot off the press, comes the new digital royalties tax on Big Internet in the UK announced in the Budget today.

The likes of Netflix and Amazon want to buy and offer rights on a global basis for their customers. Until the pesky legislators get in the way. The past few days have been good for rights holders and bad for Big Internet.

Still, if your business is concerned with managing rights, we live in interesting - and complex - times.

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.