January, 2007

A Hypothetical YouTube Case

YouTube, it’s reported, is working on an advertising revenue sharing mechanism that rewards creativity and generates cold hard cash for people who include advertising in their videos.
The offer applies only to people who own the full copyright of the videos that they are uploading to the YouTube website.
Right. But surely they’re not suggesting that people upload material for which they don’t own the full copyright currently do they?
Here’s a hypothetical based on a discussion at work today.
A media owner puts up a video of a popular band. Someone steals that video and posts it to YouTube.
In my hypothetical case, the copyright owner doesn’t spot that the video’s on YouTube – they don’t have the manpower to be constantly searching YouTube for new infringements. The person who stole the video, by the way, lives in the Cayman Islands or Cuba or Liechtenstein or somewhere else well beyond US jurisdication just for good measure.
The uploaded video is by a well known band and contains a popular new single. Something that many people are searching for.
The person who uploaded it starts earning $xx,000. We don’t know how much, but there are lots of views of it. Lots and lots of views.
The cash gets paid out in whatever mechanism.
Then a year down the line, the media owner spots the video and gets YouTube to take it down.
Who’s entitled to that cash? Can YouTube get the money back from our tax-exiled uploader. Sure, the account can be suspended, but it’s not really that hard to open another, and get a new bank account for cashing future cheques.
The media owner not only wants that advertising revenue, but the share that YouTube earned and compensation since the video was never licenced for taking advertising, and if it did, it would want way more than that!
In this instance Google/YouTube probably pay the media owner off. But how many times can this happen?
Maybe someone at YouTube has to watch each video that’s included in the ad revenue scheme to determine whether it belongs to someone other than the uploader. But how do they know? It’s a new band the YouTube video watcher has never heard of. As the uploader I might be a bandmember wanting to promote my new single and well within my rights, in which case it’s fine. Or I might be a keen fan who’s broken the band’s copyright even though he’s just trying to promote it.
As far as I know the DCMA only stays in force while someone isn’t monitoring everything that goes up. When they do start looking, doesn’t that protection fall away?

Quiz TV

This morning’s Guardian had a fantastically ascerbic column from Emily Bell about Quiz TV programmes, and in particular the appalling ITV Play channel and programme block that runs through the night.
I’ll just give you a flavour of it by reproducing the last paragraph:
Michael Grade, the incoming executive chairman, should be judged on how he handles this. Given that he put quality programming at the top of his manifesto, he should shut down ITV Play immediately. It is not a case of climbing on the moral high ground, but recognising a sewer when you’re in one and stepping out of it pretty smartly.
Hear, hear Emily.
This follows last week’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on Call TV Quiz Shows (PDF). This report acknowledged that this new form of “entertainment” is simply falling between a rock and a hard place in terms of determining who should regulate it. The big problem with the chunky report is that it admits that it’ll be for the courts to determine whether these channels and programme strands are actually free draws, lotteries or gaming.
“Our view is that they should constitute gaming as defined under the Gambling Act 2005.” Note that this Act is not fully in force until September this year.
But “it seems to us that Call TV quiz shows should constitute gaming under the Gambling Act 2005, and DCMS and the Gambling Commission should consider this as a matter of urgency.”
It seems that things are going to continue as before until September at any rate.
There are some intriguing details in the report that show, whether it’s legally gambling or not, it displays all the attributes of gambling:
“We note with interest figures supplied by ITV, showing that 77% of entrants to ITV Play played fewer than five times a day but that the average number of entries played per entrant each day was six. A simple mathematical calculation shows that very high call volumes must be being generated by a minority of callers in order to produce an average call figure which is higher than the number of calls made by 77% of callers.”
I also approve of the committees findings in respect of cryptic games – most commonly represented by games where contestants are invited to “add all the numbers.” As things stand, there’s no explanation that the game is cryptic and non-trivial, and even if a correct answer is arrived at, there is no explanation about how it was arrived at. The games companies claim that this information is commercially sensitive.
The committee calls for a requirement that solutions to such games are lodged in advance with Ofcom, and consideration should made as to whether brief explanations of the correct answer should also be broadcast. This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with.
I also believe that the displaying of odds for calls to get through is absolutely not insurmountable as the gaming companies claim. They know call volumes since that’s how they determine which callers to take to air. Converting this into an onscreen graphic would be trivial.
“We accept that there may be practical difficulties for operators in displaying a figure purporting to show the odds of any viewer getting through to the studio by making a call at that particular moment, but we believe that they are not insurmountable. We are firmly of the view that there should be more transparency about the factual information on which a calculation of the odds would be based. At present, the variables which are the most central to the calculation remain within the exclusive knowledge of the broadcasters and producers and may be under their direct control. Their telephony systems register the volume of calls coming in and it is they who decide what proportion of callers should be randomly selected, and how frequently callers should be put through to the studio.”
“It is doubtful whether the majority of viewers, let alone any first time callers, would be likely to
appreciate that their calls might be among as many as 6,000 calls made during one minute. We also doubt whether many viewers would appreciate that when the volume of incoming calls is low, the result may be that no-one is given the chance to win a prize until enough calls have come in to make it justifiable ‘in simple economic terms’.”
“We recommend that broadcasters should be required to display some recent historical information about volume of incoming calls, with an indication of the odds of being connected to the studio. The operators and regulators should together devise a model for prescribing what information should be provided and how often. We acknowledge that considerable care will need to be taken to ensure that the information given to viewers will indeed increase transparency.”
Meanwhile ICSTIS, the regulatory body for premium rate phone lines, has published its own rules today. A summary is here (PDF), and the full document here (PDF).
They’ve determined three main improvements that they feel the industry can make:
1. Ensuring that presenters give spoken reminders of the price of calling at least every ten minutes.
2. Call providers should let callers know every time they’ve spent £10 on services every day, and let you know your cumulative call spend.
3. Greater transparancy about the chances of getting through to the studio or not.
At the moment, these are just proposals from ICSTIS, who’s soliciting replies by 12 March 2007. I suspect that they’re aware, as is the industry as a whole, that if they don’t buck their ideas up, they’re going to regulated out of existance.
One final note: a couple of TV reports into this didn’t really make clear the fact that it’s not so much people hanging on the phone interminably that earns that companies so much money, as the repeat dialling nature of these programmes. With research showing some people making a new call every 8 seconds, that’s a lot more of a revenue spinner than spurious “holding.”

TV On The Internet

As this week’s BBC >Click show gets excited by the growth of TV torrenting, legal alternatives are finally presenting themselves.
The BBC is all ready to roll (I was a beta-tester back in 2005, although somehow failed to blog about it), but is having to go through a public value test. Ofcom last week published its Market Impact Assessment into the proposal.
As someone who works for a commercial operator, I completely understand some of the issues that Ofcom has, but I absolutely disagree with some of their headline findings/issues.
1/2. The concern that “series stacking” could lead to drop-offs in DVD sales. They’re worried about people saving up whole series and watching them back in one go. I suspect that this’ll drop from the 13 weeks to something like 4 weeks’ availability. You have to allow more than two weeks to make the service useful for people on holiday. DVRs/PVRs with greater capacity are going to make this a non-issue in the longterm anyway.
Removing “series stacking” altogether, as Ofcom suggests, would be fundamentally against the public interest. The example of the 15 part Bleak House is given. This was a BBC made-programme with BBC Worldwide/2Entertain releasing the DVD box set. I suggest that it’s unlikely that the full series would be released on a “to keep” basis, but the Ofcom report suggests that this shouldn’t be allowable one way or another. Frankly, I’m perfectly capable (and often do) of recording an entire series and then consuming it in large chunks over the weekend or whenever. I’d like increased flexibility to let me do this.
3. Ofcom’s worried about the audio book market and classical music market in regards to the BBC’s non-DRM’d audio proposal. It’s obvious in the BBC’s proposals that what they’re really talking about is continued availability of the kinds of programmes that are currently podcast.
The irony here is that the audio book market is burgeoning, yet somehow needs protecting. Much of the content they’re using is already BBC-based, with BBC Audio now one of the biggest players in the field. As things stand, once an afternoon play has been broadcast on Radio 4, unless it gets a repeat or very occassionally, a commercial release, that’s the last it’ll ever be heard of. If the writer’s famous enough, it might eventually show up on BBC 7, but that’s for famous actors and writers only. If the BBC can get the rights, then what’s the problem with making this programming available? Frankly, I’d actually pay for some of this unattainable material, but at the moment, there is simply no outlet. Even the likes of Audible are only really interested in high profile comedy and drama releases by big names – usually
And the classical music scaremongering is record company driven. I don’t believe that the BBC was proposing this anyway, but Ofcom is trying to put a clause in to prevent it one way or the other.
As a correspondent aks in this morning’s Guardian, “Is it Ofcom’s job to stifle public service innovation?”
In the meantime, Channel 4’s “4OD” has launched, and I’ve also tried out Sky’s Anytime service. I haven’t so far bothered with Five’s service since there’s no free programming on it from what I can tell.
The big problem with these services is that they each require a separate application to be installed – even when there significantly shared elements within the services, in particular the peer to peer technology from Kontiki.
4OD is largely paid-for rental of programmes, with the odd freebie given away. Since I’m not really predisposed to pay £1.99 for an episode of Deal or No Deal, I’ve only watched very little on it. Actually, just an episode of Trigger Happy TV that was free.
Meanwhile over on Sky Anytime, you get different freebies depending on subscription, as well as various pay per view opportunities.
Neither service is too clear about the fact that it is peer to peer technology, and like others, I found it really difficult to kill the sharing once I’d closed the applications. You really shouldn’t have to be manually killing individual processes. Downloading movies can really ruin your general internet experience. I couldn’t find any kind of throttling option with either piece of software.
Finally there’s the fancy new cool kid on the block – Joost (née The Venice Project), from the people who brought you Skype. It’s only in beta at the moment, but first impressions are pretty good with a user interface that doesn’t take too long to get to grips with. You can also close the program properly when you’re done (I’m always suspicious that I’m eating bandwidth when I’ve not shut the programme down fully). Joost is very different in that it streams almost immediately at a pretty good bit-rate. But there is a relatively minimal programme offering just now with behind the scenes of music videos and episodes of The Album Chart Show predominating. Worth watching!
One thing that is going to affect the UK market is the current prevalance of capped downloads.
In summary, the question is whether or not I’m willing to pay for a programme that went out free to air on television? The answer in most instances, even for a keen viewer like myself, is not. If I miss something, I tend to think of it as my own fault for not setting the video/PVR or being able to see it online. The US market is the one to look at, where viewers can indeed catch up with Lost or Heroes online with limited commercial interruption. And the same programmes are also available ad-free on iTunes for a fee. Which model is going to work?
The other big question is how to get that content from our PCs to our TVs in an easy manner. Yes plenty of half-decent video cards have video outs, but that’s a solution involving wires, and we’re living in wifi homes these days. Apple TV is a start, but there’s plenty of room yet to improve things. That’s not much use if I want to catch up with TV on the BBC’s smallish player.

Ryszard Kapuscinski

Sad to hear that veteran Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski died last week. I first came across him when I started reading Granta many years ago. To be honest I was intrigued by a magazine that came in a paperback book format. But two writers from those early editions really stood out for me: James Fenton’s reportage from his times in Vietnam amongst other places, collected in the book All The Wrong Places; and Kapucinski who’s reporting came from absolutely all over the world.
There are loads of books by him, but maybe ones to start with include The Soccer War (only one part of the book), and his more recently published The Shadow and the Sun detailing his time in Africa.
The remarkable thing about Kapuscinski is what he was able to do at a time when Poland was behind the Iron Curtain, and freedom of travel was not something bestowed lightly by the State.
As befits the man, there are obituaries all over the place. But here are ones from The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Times.
Granta’s put an interview conducted with Kapuscinski on its website along with a piece from 2004 (also reproduced in a shortened version in this weekend’s Guardian Review).
Finally, worth noting is a curious piece in Slate. We know that American journalism is holier than thou, which in many respects is why much of it’s so dull. But Jack Shafer does argue convincingly about the less glorious side of Kapuscinski’s writing. Still Shafer does say that fats are “invited to pour benzene over my naked body and set it afire with e-mail.”

Multiple DVDs

I really am getting fed up with DVDs being constantly re-released in Directors’ Cuts or whatever, with additional extras all the time.
Case in point is Alexander, the Oliver Stone film. Now I didn’t think it was all that bad – certainly better than most gave it credit for. It came out a double-disc DVD of the theatrical release. This was swiftly followed by a single-disc Director’s Cut which actually shortened the running time a little (although additional material was included, other footage was cut), and didn’t give you all the extra features that the first release had.
Seemingly Oliver Stone has been unable to leave the film alone, and we now have Alexander Revisited: The Unrated Final Cut. Running to 220 minutes, it’s by far the longest version – 45 minutes longer than the original theatrical release. This is seemingly the final version of the film.
Calling it “Unrated” isn’t especially accurate, since it’ll have to be rated to be released in this country. Films can be released unrated in the States, but that’s not really relevant to a British audience.
Stone is glad to have had the opportunity to release this new version according to the press release. As well he should be. Why didn’t he get it right for the Director’s Cut? Actually, why didn’t he get it right for the theatrical release?
Anyway, we get to the nitty-gritty of the whole thing when we learn “The DVD release date of Alexander: Revisited is timed to leverage audience anticipation of ‘300,’ the action-packed theatrical release from film and comics visionary Frank Miller.”
Look forward to the HD-DVD Supreme Edition of Alexander, and the Total Edition on Blu-Ray, available in a couple of months’ time.

Back To Square One

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m going to be at the match, I’d be tuning in to BBC Radio Five Live Sports Extra this Sunday to hear an alternate version of the commentary.
As this piece explains, back in 1927 from the first radio commentaries, each week’s Radio Times would publish a chart of a football pitch which was divided into eight squares. The commentator would describe the action, while a second voice called out the grid numbers so listeners at home could appreciate where the ball was. The phrase “back to square one” is famously said to come from this system, although a ball played back could equally have ended up in square two.
This week’s Radio Times has reproduced a version of the said chart, but it and the accompanying article are also available online.
(I may record the coverage anyway, radio anorak that I am.)

Channel 4 and the Celebrity Big Brother Dabacle

Channel 4 was created in the 1981 Broadcasting Act. Its programming remit, which has remained largely unchanged, was cemented in the 1990 Broadcasting Act, with the station required:
[to] contain a suitable proportion of matter calculated to appeal to tastes and interests not generally catered for by Channel 3 and that innovation and experiment in the form and content of those programmes (should be) encouraged.
The service was also to offer “distinctive character.”
Today, if you visit its website, you’ll see that it’s primary purpose according to the 2003 Communciations Act:
The public service remit for Channel 4 is the provision of a broad range of high quality and diverse programming which, in particular:
(a) demonstrates innovation, experiment and creativity in the form and content of programmes;
(b) appeals to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society;
(c) makes a significant contribution to meeting the need for the licensed public service channels to include programmes of an educational nature and other programmes of educative value; and
(d) exhibits a distinctive character.

On this morning’s Today programme (Real Audio), Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson wasn’t prepared to say anything. So when Channel 4’s chief executive Andy Duncan appeared at a live press conference in Oxford (where he had been scheduled to speak as part of a media conference), all eyes and ears were on him as events surrounding the current edition of Celebrity Big Brother grew ever larger.
And of course he defended the programme. Two of the contestants had been spoken to he said, and we’d be able to see this tonight ourselves. What? Last night’s ratings not big enough Andy?
Whilst issues of racism or bullying are absolutely the kind of issues that a public service broadcaster such as Channel 4 should be covering as they’re incredibly relevant in today’s society, is it fair that a “contestant” in a “game show” is abused? Yes, these truths do need to be confronted. But this isn’t some kind of fly on the wall documentary; this is taking place in a television studio in an environment concoted purposefully, almost wholly for entertainment purposes.
Is there racial abuse going on in the “house”? Probably. Is there bullying going on? Almost certainly. Are some of the contestants going to be demonised on leaving the programme? Certainly. I’m not watching the damn programme, so I can’t comment from an enormous position of knowledge. However, I’ve seen the same clips lifted for news items. Selective, perhaps, but then the whole conceit is based around selective editing with “story editors” and producers putting “packages” together for the edification of viewers.
Yes, the 30,000+ complaints to Ofcom has been based around organised protests. Even Ofcom makes it easy for you with a direct link from their main Complaints page. But that’s not to belittle the genuine feelings of thousands of people in this country.
I expect that that the hyenas will be out tomorrow evening for the eviction, baying for blood in a display that brings to mind what it must have been when public executions took place regularly at the Tyburn gallows. That kind of sight is as gruesome as a “posse” of News of the World readers (is that the correct collective noun?) attacking a paediatrician mistaken for a paedophile, or the people who stand around outside the Old Bailey to shout contempt when a serial killer is on trial.
What is clear is that Davinna McCall is thoroughly ill-equipped to handle an interview in the circumstances we now find ourselves in.
In a self-serving piece of publicity, the Carphone Warehouse pulled their sponsorship of the programme this afternoon. Whilst I’ve no doubt that Charles Dunstone really does find the recent turn of events in the programme sickening, as, I’m sure, many of his employees do, let’s not forget that the programme’s notoriety in recent years has built upon shock tactics. So he knew what he was letting himself in for when he agreed to the sponsorship. Still, this will at least give Channel 4 a little more pause for thought as they probably lose millions of pounds as a result. And I trust that the brand won’t return as a sponsor when the regular series starts up again, as it surely will, this summer.
We’ve had domestic violence and racism now. So what’s next Channel 4?
[LATER] The premium rate voting lines for Big Brother are all for pure profit. As a commenter on the Media Guardian Organ Grinder notes, this just stirs people into voting for Shilpa the contestant at the receiving end of all this. So more cash for Channel 4 and Endemol, the producers of this programme (I don’t know precisely how the revenue is split – please let me know if you do).
I suggest that the profits at least get diverted to some kind of race relations or bullying charity. [UPDATE] They now are being donated to the charity chosen by the eventual winner. And they’re getting rid of the crowd element of the eviction.
[LATER STILL] One thing that really annoys me over this whole ridiculous incident is that Channel 4 is singularly failing in coming forward to openly talk about what it has aired in the last week. I’ve just watched the network’s own excellent news programme, and the channel was unwilling to put someone up to talk about the issues. That’s an unconscionable failure – they absolutely have to be willing to defend their actions. It’s not for government to determine what’s aired fortunately, but this does mean that someone has to step up and face the criticism. Think of everything that the BBC has faced over the years. At least the Director General or Chairman was always willing to step up and take the flak if need be. Andy Duncan may have feebly faced a press conference earlier, but he, or someone equivalent, should have faced Jon Snow on the Channel 4 News tonight. I, and every other viewer, expect nothing less.
You know, I’m really annoyed that I’m writing all this about such a trivial and worthless programme. There really are more important things in the world going on.

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz is the new Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright film. You know? The people who brought you Shaun of the Dead, and more importantly, Spaced.
This time around we have Simon Pegg’s diligent Sgt. Angel being transferred from the Met, where he’s showng everyone else up with his tremendous drive and arrest rates, to rural Gloucestershire, where things aren’t conducted at quite as high pace as they are in London… Or are they?
Nick Frost plays PC Danny Butterman, in a station full of archetypes, including “The Andys” (a pair of CID detectives that have strolled in from the set of Life on Mars), Olivia Coleman’s double entendre-laden Doris, Edward Woodward’s citizen liaison (a nod towards The Equalizer with his character) and Jim Broadbent’s inspector. Every face is recognisable, including various townsfolk (“Sandford” is described as a village, but feels more like a small market town to me. It does have a branch of Somerfield after all), not least of which is Timothy Dalton’s pantomine villain. Such is this team’s star in the firmament at the moment, it feels as though Pegg only has to pick up the phone and familiar faces sign up immediately.
A series of “accidents” happen around and about the place, but only Angel (or Angle as Adam Buxton’s local journalist would have it) is seeing the real truth. There’s something darker going on in Sandford than the possible threat of hoodies or the living statue that keeps appearing in the townsquare.
There are pop-culture references aplenty, and here’s hoping that they’ll get their own subtitle track on the DVD when it’s released. But the film is probably just a bit slow for a comedy. It’s one hour fifty-six minutes long which is just about half an hour too much. It’s the middle bit that needs cropping where there’s a fine line being trodden between knowing nods to melodrama, and attempts at, well, actual drama.
There are plenty of laughs, although they don’t come as frequently as I’d have liked. And some of the cinematic devices used are little well-worn, like the fast-cuts used to indicate Angel’s incredible work ethic.
The finale is great fun though, as we get what’s essentially the finish to a film like Bad Boys II (referenced directly more than once) but in a quiet English village. It’s a pistol packing sequence that’s pastiching (the again referenced in dialogue) Straw Dogs as well as genre Hollywood fare.
Overall, it’s absolutely worth seeing, but is perhaps a little off the best form I know that this team is capable of. That said, it’s a level higher than most garbage that passes for comedy on our screens. Roll on La Triviata should it actually happen (Did Jonathan Ross mention it in his interview with Pegg before Christmas? I thought he did).

Channel 4 Not Dumbing Down

I’ve got an apology to make.
I may have lead readers of this blog in the past to believe that Channel 4 has “dumbed down” with vacuous programming filling up most of primetime after the worthy stuff has gone out against the soaps.
(Take a bow “The Search”, the latest feeble attempt to mimic the success of The Da Vinci Code, by being a weekly quiz show that globe trots around the world with a pretty young cast of competitors (plus one or two oldies) solving trivial clues to help crack a code. If it sounds like the recent “Codex” you’d be right. The only difference is that this time they get to step outside the British Museum.)
But I’m wrong. Yes – the days of Dance on 4, or primetime opera may have long gone, but Channel 4 is currently broadcasting something that’s nearly as epic as Andy Warhol’s film Sleep. After midnight the channel starts to stream live coverage from the “Celebrity” Big Brother house, and invariably, if you’re flicking around after the witching hour, they’re asleep. Now some might say that it’s because this year’s contestants are so dull that they’ve nothing to do except sleep, and Big Brother’s producers managed to so screw up this year’s edition by re-introducing Jade Goody et al, that all the potentially interesting people left. But I say they’ve done us a favour.
The other night I was flicking between E4 and E4+1 and exactly the same thing was on both channels. The same people sleeping in pretty much the same positions.
If that’s not art, I don’t know what is.
Disclaimer: I loathe and detest Big Brother – I’m attempting irony here. Much of what I’ve included above, I’ve learnt from talking to people and reading online. I certainly wouldn’t recommend people actually watch the regularly scheduled programming in primetime on C4 or E4. Instead, can I perhaps suggest learning Chinese on CCTV-9. Zai jian.