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Live-Demand: an introduction

By Gavin, 1st March 2004

Webcasting, Streaming, Digital Downloading and Broadcasting

All these terms refer to the same thing: the ability to distribute media. Until recently, we’d been using TV, Radio broadcasting, CDs and tapes to distribute our media. The internet has changed all that: making receiving some music, TV and moveis as easy as sending an e-mail.

People are already doing this in their millions every day, often to the annoyance of the copyright holders. Rather than talk about the legal issues, let’s focus on what’s possible. The more interesting questions are about what can we build.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to a single principle – transferring data over the net. Web pages and text were just smaller files – it was just easier to do that first.

We’re familiar with MP3s now. This has massively increased awareness of how the internet changes media consumption. The increased speed of internet access ("broadband") in the home, combined with greatly reduced cost of transmission ("bandwidth") is leading us toward tangible alternative business and consumption models.

We are in that period of change.

1) Redefining "Live"
Broadcasting has always been defined by physics – transmission is limited to territories. Our businesses and laws have evolved to exploit a territory-based commercial structure for distribution and profit. Although global, satellite has always been too expensive to make it worthwhile for all but a small minority of content providers.

Online we can all be broadcasters. Any PC sold in the last 5 years is powerful enough to act as a "transmitter". For audio ("radio") you don’t even need broadband.

After a lot of deliberation, I now use the term Webcasting to encapsulate any form of live transmission that uses the IP (the Internet Protocol) as a carrier (which will eventually be everything).

2) Redefining "Demand"
Our product-led "demand" media world is also completely governed by territory-based rights, just like broadcasting.

But our analog on-demand world also has two distinct stages. The first is buying/borrowing some hard-media, like a CD. Once we have it, we have another choice – what hard-media to take out of its box and place in our CD player. The effort involved in this should not be under-estimated. It makes us choose what we listen to quite carefully.

When we don’t want to choose carefully we put on the TV or Radio – Live Broadcasting is (was) content someone else choose for us.

Now, sitting here with my entire music collection 1-click away, all my patterns of choice have changed. Quite often I choose "random play" and rediscover music I’ve not listened to for ages. If
I get bored I can skip an album with the same effort I used to skip a track. It’s really very different.

If I want to listen to a friends CD or some new music that they think I might like, they can just e-mail it to me. If I like it I don’t "make a copy", I just don’t delete it. If I want to pay the artist I can sometimes buy the tracks online, otherwise I’d have to order the CD off Amazon.

But anyone can send me the files, and I can send them to anyone else.

Online we can all be distributors. Virtually any PC in existence can act as a distributor – which is why services like Kazaa just fly.

So what do we do with it all?
All the hooha about legal rights is based on territory and technology-based models that dont fit online. But I said I wasn’t going to talk about that.

Instead, let’s look at why we "are where we are": the legal rights are actually meant to be there to "protect the people who make a living out of being creative". We are this "creative industry". We are meant to be being creative with all these new applications – instead our 8 year-old kids are
just working out what they want and are getting on with it, while much of the industry tries to protect its old house.

What we can do instead, now the ‘net bubble is gone, is focus on being creative with our industry – taking risks. We can building direct relationships between our customers and how we finance our business (or, in more popular jargon "engage with our community"). We can build trust-networks, be completely transparent, not rely on intermediaries assuming editorial control, be our own channel with other people that we like – let our audiences decide for themselves and let them tell us directly.

We have a unique opportunity to listen to and even watch our own audiences. We need to work out how to engage with them, not isolate them even further from the creative world that they are buying into and are an integral part of.

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