February 10, 2004

Digital Media Summit Day 1

At the Digital Media Summit at McGraw-Hill. Lots of big media are attending, and there is not much digital, and a little digitized, media being discussed. They appear to also discuss "IP" as though it were intellectual property, except the context is that "IP" is a code word for digital media in the Internet era. It's been discussed in panels where they talk about analog media, and then start refering to IP, as though analog media is not also intellectual property. Although I suppose they could be referring to internet protocols, though this is most definitely not a technically adept crowd, so I don't think they mean it that way. The cultural divide between them and the technical crowds I see at other conferences is huge. Speaking two very different languages with little cross over. Media people assume one-to-many models, broadcast, editing and filtering, and consumption. Tech people assume many-to-many, user controls, and user flexibility over content and systems. These two groups need each other but frankly, I don't see many bridges between the two. Though I would argue that as time goes on, the media people will need the tech people more, and the tech people will need the media people less, but that will take 20 years to complete, because people are slow to adapt to new systems and it will take that long for generations to change.

Media people still assume they are in control, and the case in point is the title of one of the first panels: The Broadcast Advantage or the Network Dominance Niche: Why the programming and advertising giants continue to deliver and maintain mass audience loyalty. I attended the first 10 minutes and this was debated. But still they assumed there was still control. They are arrogant, and it is a big part of the reason the public is so angry with media companies, and the press for that matter, and will keep wanting more ability to rip, mix and burn their media and to design their own experiences, and talk about it with both their friends and the makers of the content they buy.

The first panel I attended was on DRM, and included Mitch Singer at Sony and Ron Wheeler at Fox. Charles Nesson from the Berkman Center and John Godwin at MovieLink were there as well, but it was basically the Mitch and Ron show. They advanced a lot of ideas that were either technically unfeasible, ridiculous from a user point of view or the kicker, that the DRM solutions they discuss, which are technically feasible, would work. The audience, full of media, press, business and ad people took it all in, with very little dissent. Only one question from a gaming company executive, who said he had successfully sold games working with P2P, asked why they didn't consider doing the same. Wheeler said they couldn't do with movies and cable/TV what had been done with games, but did not explain why. Drew Clark asked about some of this, and was not really given an answer as to why these DRM solutions might not work. No one here addressed consumer issues, in this panel, or any others. Basically, we were discussed as though we are baby birds with our mouths open, happy to take anything big media company gives us. Wheeler also noted that Fox, any minute, is going to be suing people for uploading movies (suits are in the works now). Also he said that they were looking for carrots verses sticks to get to those who have more money than time, which they estimated was around 100 million American households. However, there was no consideration for people who want to take their media where they want, when they want, and how they want, and maybe mix it, which in another panel it was noted that kids are growing up expecting. I think this means that when these kids grow up, the business model put forth by Singer and Wheeler in this panel, and generally by big media today, will be over because they cannot sustain it. They will either adapt or die. They also talked about self-help systems, and Nesson briefly introduced his interdiction system, though he didn't say anything else for the rest of the session. Also, there wasn't as much from Godwin, who talked about how MovieLink hadn't been cracked.

Where was the technologist on this panel who might explain to them that what they are saying is not possible, or has been cracked, or simply, that with digital media, on computers (whether portable or tethered) that in order to listen/view/play, a copy must be made to experience? Drew Clark tried to ask Wheeler about his assumptions, Wheeler said these assumptions were correct, the worries were not founded, etc.

Deep down, the mood overall here is fear, but together in a pack, they can collude on the notion that while they can't turn back the clock, they might be able to keep things as the are now, in stasis, with a few controls (IP) and a firm lock on the media business (a few to the many) while chatting excitedly about convergence (it appears to mean using all the many media properties under one giant company umbrella, with many types of media and many platforms, to give them both cross use, and cross marketing, as well as synergy - there, it's been said, since they refuse to say it after the synergy-disaster of AOLTW, between these media companies). The thing they forget is that users will not go back to a time when they have to blithely accept what comes down, that they can't mix, rip, or burn, that they have to be controlled in their playing and sharing, and that they are not part of the conversation. These media companies are the biggest sellers now of cable/TV/Broadcast, movies and music. But if they can't continue to maintain the consolidation and broadcasting they do now, and the fear gives their position away. Once in a while there were a few words uttered about being realistic, often followed by silence, and then everyone moved on to what they perceived as the real conversation, how to maintain what currently exists.

The next panels on urban media and advertising models were more realistic and hopeful, because they were focusing on internet advertising for digital media, though they didn't discuss much about actual digital media, just internet distribution and the accompanying advertising models. Some very good ideas for ads, and some talk about how to stay in touch with users and remain authentic. The urban market (which they noted originated as a code word for "black" media 30 years ago) is big, hot and profitable, and a significant portion of media markets (over 40% of the top 10 markets). And yet not as many people attended the session (half full), compared to the ones where the big, old (white male) media companies were presenting (packed to the gills).

The last session included Jack Abernethy of Fox News Network and Kevin Conroy of AOL. This was the 30,000 foot overview, and had a little more realistic view of the major media companies and their ability to deal content to their users in the digital age. Lots of mention of the networked household, and untethered media, user's expectations about an always-on connection (as increased broadband penetration occurs.) Also, Conroy mentioned the biggest concern for AOL broadband users: 1. security and privacy (parents with kids on the internet - which I take to mean AOL and the parents are concerned about protecting kids, not security as in purchasing issues or people hacking into home networks), 2. communication features of BB and the convenience of BB, 3. Entertainment, and the repurposing of content for BB users, and 4. "All Builds" which he said means offering a service, like a radio preset list, that could go from laptop or home computer to mobile devices to car to office.

They also talked about bundling content, high speed delivery, what people will pay for (that which is important and unique), ad models and whether internet ads are cheap (they said they are, but to be successful both with ads and selling content is to segment markets). They ended with the Conroy remark that what is key is to understand, immediately, what matters to people and how to reach those that deem a particular thing as meaningful and give it to them (whether ad or content).

Finished the day with a quick 30 minutes (part of a 3 hour session) to hear Sen. Norm Coleman, who talked at the DCIA (Distributed Computing Industry Association - kind of a the trade association for Sharman Networks, maker of KaZaa) meeting held at the NY Hilton. I get a strange feeling from this group. I'm not sure what to make of them. They have one member, Altnet, a/k/a Brilliant Digital Entertainment. P2P has a quote I found after the presentation from P2P United front man Wayne Rosso:

Note thought that P2P United is another trade association by Sharman's competitors.

The room was pretty packed, and Coleman, who has held hearings in Washington about the RIAA's tactics suing uploaders of copyrighted files, talked about how he didn't think this was the way to go about dealing with the ramifications of digital media and the internet, and new technologies like P2P. Instead, he thinks the DCIA is onto something, in trying to exploit P2P systems to distribute content. People were excited because they thought the woman who runs Sharman would be there, but instead, there was a large screen with video projection of her, speaking extremely slowly, while she explained why the DCIA was necessary to develop systems that work with P2P instead of against it. There was an AP photographer there who snapped photo's of the video. When he sat down next to me, I asked if he could actually use those, or if anyone else would use them, and he said no, that it was a waste (kind of exasperated), and then got his stuff and left. Not sure what happened next, because I had to leave to go to dinner with Daniel C. Silverstein (of early bIPlog), his brother Todd (who is doing a poetry reading at Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery (Bleecker-Houston) on 2/18/04 at 6:30 pm and who had to leave early due to this upcoming poetry obligation), Scott Matthews and Amy Harmon. Interesting conversation about digital, media and tech stuff.

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 10, 2004 06:23 AM | TrackBack

I found the comments and the reorganization of thought processes into the music industry to be a nail on the head pertaining to the way compelling content needs to be obtained, packaged and presented to the consumer--that's rightly so: Give the people what they want at a time they need it the most. Universality is the key to the Gold Rush Gates. And this vehicle--internet tool is the space for that ultimate inclusion. There has been plenty of talk about the music industry's rut--mess. The mire that it has managed to sink its feet at the very bottom line of finacial loss by the billions. Some may be quick to point to the file sharing piracy elites as the source of the problem; that scenerio may be only partial. I know that the heart of the slippage problem is a beckoning inquiry: "What can sustain the music industry permanently--the foundation of true artistic value or the quick manufactured fad for a measely minute time million dollar scam? I suggest the Digital Media Summit follows my first suggestion and lead off the 21st century with the artist ideology of the "Sound of Literati"--the kids on the streets say the poetry is good. Atleast they learn a new meaningful word--something they can take back to the class room. Thanks for sharing a moment with the Spoken X Digital Media Group--a new experience in digital Talk Shows: Netmusic, Audio Lunchbox, musicnet, Emusic, Musicmatch, Rhapsody, Buymusic, Napster and Apple i Tunes.

Posted by: Spoken X Digital Media GROUP at February 23, 2004 10:18 PM