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May 18, 2005
Pesce on Hyperdistribution, Part 1
So, having read part one of Mark Pesce's series on television piracy, I can say "welcome" to another copyfighter, albeit one whose writing has an ahistorical bent to it.
Pesce's column makes it seem like the story starts with Battlestar Galactica and BitTorrent in late 2004. Um, no, I'm sorry. I was watching Babylon 5 episodes with vast groups of MIT geeks as soon as someone could snatch the downloaded signal off the satellite, days before the local affiliates broadcast it. Friends of mine have been going to Buffy parties and participating in other TV-show sneak-preview distribution networks for years. So yeah, BitTorrent makes it easier and having broadband makes it available to more people, but it's not really new.
Pesce's next point is that BitTorrent creates a kind of "hyperdistribution" in which the net becomes more efficient at distributing media than broadcast possibly can. Again, not really news. To pick just one non-random example, Nicholas Negroponte has been saying things like this for years (see Being Digital for example).
Pesce is also wrong when he calls out region-specific/live broadcasting as "unsuitable" for hyperdistribution. He should study some of the history around the Cartel's attempts to cut off TiVo's distribution features because they break region locks for things like blacked-out sports events. Trust me, there's an audience for this.
What Pesce is really trying to write is his analysis of the potential commerical models that hyperdistribution enables. Assuming that the Cartel called off its attempt to smash BitTorrent, and called off its jihad against its TV-viewing customers, it might consider some of what Pesce is offering in the way of alternative business models. He notes that station id 'bugs' are permanently etched on most TV shows now. I find these logos incredibly annoying, but Pesce seems to think it's a good place to put station-independent "advertiser payloads" (why does this remind me of "deaths by friendly fire?"). He notes that some advertisers are already doing this, as well as experimenting with different forms of embedded (and thus less skippable) advertising.
Mark has correctly noticed that television revenue is directly proportional to audience size - that's the metric advertisers use - and that BitTorrenting the content only builds audience. So in theory it should make economic sense to build a business around this. However, what he's failed to realize is that the Cartel are impervious to economic analysis, as it's oil to their water.
[Edit: changed the title and removed timeliness references in response to Mark's notes about his historical involvement. See comments for details]
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