|Topic:||Drinking from the “Rights Pool”|
|Title:||Chief Technology Officer|
Nigel Harper is the Chief Technology Officer for Asia at Yes Television; he has devoted over a decade to the “Interactive TV” world. Mr Harper built his early deployment experience in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and, more recently, with developments in Mainland China. Mr Harper is presently engaged in the development of programming and service for Broadband PC and television subscriber groups. Prior to joining Yes, he worked with Interactive Systems at the Cambridge iTV Service and provided consulting expertise for international operations (including the BBC, SingTel, Oracle and the EU-funded project AMUSE) exploring technical and business cases for consumer-focused services, predominantly in the Interactive TV field. He has specialised in the technical architectures for delivery of interactive and information systems including both the hardware systems for head-end and consumer premises equipment, as well as the software and standards. He has worked on projects in the Set-top box arena for Online-Media as well as leading work on IP platforms and WWW on TV services including original work in Network Computing. Nigel holds an MSc in Interactive Computing and also a BA Honours degree in Design and Technology from Loughborough University (UK).
The development of “value-added” consumer revenues has turned to streaming media and entertainment: television, drama, documentary & movies all feature in the growing offerings for on-demand content. Gaining the support of the media rights holders to deliver these services requires time and care; critically, it also requires an adherence to auditable controls and operational procedures. Dealing with the complexity of creating a “Media Pool” for multiple device access across multiple geographies and time scales is the new technical and operational challenge.
Value Operations Ubiquitous communications have, for a select few, become an expected norm. Even the more modest consumer feels ever-present marketing and “technology push”. Get a new phone, faster PC, fatter broadband pipe, and we are told that, with a little effort and ingenuity, they can be made to talk and exchange all manner of information and access to services. However, from a commercial perspective we are learning fast that revenues related only to communications access do not cover the bills. If, for the moment, we accept that pervasive connectivity is a given and transparent to the consumer, what developments can we as technologists and service operators deliver to address the revenue gap? In an effort to create the necessary and sustainable revenues, carriers, MSOs (Multiple Service Operators) and related organisations are now bundling “value added” with their access offering. This is not news to those who are reviewing or preparing business plans for these services, as they are faced with very tough decisions as to what sort of “value-added” services will deliver the revenues they need. Making the right move in the digital economy is not easy. There are many operational issues and factors that must be clearly understood and delivered as one embraces pervasive services or offers any streaming media-based “value proposition” to the consumer. Media Partnering In what was once a technologically driven market, broadband access players are crafting relationships with video-based service providers and/or aggregating their own offerings. In certain markets, such as Hong Kong, broadband access services have reached an inelastic price point with consumers making selections based upon bundled service and added value rather than better access or lower pricing. Many of today’s video-based value-added services are examples of offerings by strong market players seeking to deliver additional value to their broadband customers. Going it alone is not a strategy for the faint-hearted. As Adam Fry reported, (Connect-World ICT Global Challenge Issue, 2004) the likely winners in this next phase of the digital economy will be those who can bring together the most value for the consumer wherever they happen to be. The partnering strategy used by these organisations gives them access to a wider, specialised, knowledge base. Media owners and content rights holders are instrumental in enabling this business partnership to happen. Without their supportive, active, involvement the business case for a positive consumer experiences is unlikely to deliver the sustained return on investment needed. Media Drought! Many entrepreneurial services have needed several attempts to get the right balance of technical solution, access quality and commercial reality. What’s so hard and why aren’t we, as consumers, enjoying more widely available media services and packages? The hard part is getting the whole package to work together in an efficient operation. Too many organisations have spent valuable dollars seeking to integrate disparate components and address new demands. We can no longer afford the time or money to start afresh. The problem of pervasive service is, how does one deliver consistent usage information and products across a wide variety of end-user access points and usage schema? Thus far, service operators have resisted this complex move. Nevertheless, it will be necessary to developing a sustainable business. Few have been brave enough to start … There are a growing number of legitimate download models like Apple’s iTunes Music Store and the RealRhapsody service. Both provide movie trailers and links for other media and “hard” CD purchases. During his recent address at the recent National Cable & Telecommunications show in New Orleans about a ubiquitous communications world, US FCC Chairman Michael Powell coined the term “iPod-isation.” More than the actual device, it is the concept of service, access and multiple usage environments that he alludes to. Clearly, we like the freedom to consume and the ability to do so in our own way and time using a convenient device. Consumers are seeking “Martini Media” (from the advertising slogan for Martini – “any time, any place, anywhere”.) However, today the experience is more like drinking from a small oasis than from a great media pool or even the wide open sea. Access to a full range of content usually requires multiple subscriptions often restricted to specific devices. Consumers are experiencing a media drought! If a consumer wishes to drink deeply from the pool there needs to be a good supply of water and if we are to share and have quality access then there needs to be some ongoing management – to ensure the flow continues and that no one abuses or pollutes the supply. Taking the First Sip As a fledgling industry we have only a bare bones recipe for a fusion of the pervasive technology we use on the road, office or in our homes. We still work with a range of media and programming services. If all of this can be wrapped up in a consolidated subscription model that provides sustainable and growing revenue, it should put an end to the media drought. Experience tells us it can take two or three attempts to create a desirable media experience and probably more to deliver a great experience. Content, many have found, is the key element – the true king. Experience also tells us that, although one might have a “killer app” or content, there also needs to be a demonstrable depth of material to assure consumers you can deliver. Do you rent videos from a corner store or Blockbuster? We prefer to select from the widest range available. Here, that means creating a deeper pool with more content, resulting in a stronger value proposition. Acquiring rights and distribution for content is not as simple as turning on the tap to fill up the pool. Contracts usually stipulate many factors and seek to manage the full variety of end destinations and means of consumption. This means that any pervasive service will have to deal with several overlapping, often complex, interactions and contractual rule sets. To illustrate the point let us look at a single content element – my favourite football team’s most recent match: In the office, I have a news-ticker that I subscribe to via the team WWW site. The screen ticker reveals that Manchester United have just gone ahead, 1-0 in the live game. Departing the office, in a vain attempt to beat the evening jams, I get on the road with laptop, PDA and mobile in hand. Thanks to the wise investment of this service operator, I have Wi-Fi access and can get to my subscription service for the Manchester game. At home, having gone through the no-man’s-land between the Wi-Fi service on the main road and my wired home, I have missed the end of the game. I dash upstairs to the “office” and pick up the broadband video feed once more. Game over. No matter, I had the PVR set and have captured the full experience in high-definition TV quality! Delivering the media for even this simple scenario has required a great quantity of rights information, access rules, device/network combinations, from ticker feeds, PC streams, portable TV and PDA, the associated Internet and broadcast rights, plus stored viewing. Now imagine that one piece of content, the match, multiplied across all the interest, genre, distribution and production houses who might offer programming. As a consumer I want to be able to have the same freedoms and am willing to pay for them, for all my programming and content. Managing the proliferation of this content and its active distribution and use, is a critical step for the development of revenue services. Pool Maintenance Outside of the necessary technology drivers, like video format and streaming capacity, content rights holders and their representatives are understandably keen to deliver their particular experience to the markets and to capture maximum return. Of critical importance to them is not only the Digital Rights Management (DRM) for copy protection and access control, but the often underestimated partnering relationship involved in the Management of Digital Rights (MDR) and who has the control – and permission – to change them. This is a subtle, but key, re-arrangement of the acronym for us to appreciate. Let me explain. DRM looks after the access to specific pieces of media, how they might be used and re-used, copied or otherwise governed once the media has been located. DRM manages and sets up the information – the usage rules and conditions – that permit access by the consumer and, as well, manages the distribution and availability of the content, e.g. which country or city should a particular newsfeed be available in. Content rights, digital or otherwise, come with a raft of contractual obligations, access regimes, distribution zones and other rules. Each of these needs to be adhered to and practised and, increasingly, needs to be delivered in an auditable fashion. Your average movie requires 15 or so data items or groups. A typical service offers over 8,000 movies to the consumer; that means it has some 120,000 data assets to manage. Not a massive database by any standard, but geographical management conditions complicate their management. The second matrix depicts the relations between just four rights management variables: geography, content, user interface and management security. The increase in management complexity is astounding. Each element has sub-elements, which give rise to an astonishing number of combinations. This creates a huge matrix of license, contract and business rules. Better, more cost effective, DRM management is needed if the services being delivered are to generate the hoped for revenues. There are “asset management” products on the market that control distribution and territorial access control, But few successfully and cost efficiently combine those features with an auditable process that does not significantly reduce revenues. Last Orders … When mixing media with lifestyle and ubiquitous access to technology, attention must be paid to the needs of content rights holders if we are to create and sustain viable business models. The question of who creates – puts together all the pieces – and owns the media “pool” has yet to be settled. Enterprises such as Real and Apply are morphing into media entities via their own web offerings, but the race has just started. Part of the longer term challenge is to find ways to transform today’s media oasis into a pool and then a sea. What is certain though, is that to develop the services and create a sustainable business, top-notch media management tools will be essential.