Monday, May 25, 2009

The Long Awaited Awakening of Payment-ism

I'm excited by the recent outbreak of 'payment-ism' that's broken out in the media. Payment-ism is the long long awaited push-back by content providers who are seeing their businesses destroyed by the 'everything-for-free-ism' of the web.

This latest round started with Rupert Murdoch saying that he was going to stop providing free online versions of his newspapers. Online is killing newsprint, just like it killed CD sales and just like it's killing DVD sales. The editor of the Wall Street Journal likened Google and YouTube to parasites in what's starting look like a coordinated attack by News International on some of the 'everything-for-free' pillars of the web establishment.

There's another interesting angle on this that has crept out into the news too – and that's the paradox that is the BBC's iPlayer. The iPlayer is a superb piece of technology with an incredible content offering (relative to most online video destinations) and I am now hearing tales of people I know personally (as opposed to people made up by the newspapers) who are not bothering with the whole buy-a-TV and a TV License thing. Everything they want to watch they can watch online, usually legally, on the iPlayer, on or 4OD. What they can't find there they find on a torrent site.

The truth is that students, singletons with active social lives (who therefore don't watch much live TV), divorced dads, TV-phobes, geeks and technophiles are all people who can't live without their broadband connections but they can live without their conventional TV.

Aardman's most recent TV film, Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death really brought home to me how the iPlayer is changing everything. With the previous films there has been a scarcity about them; it wasn't possible to watch them again and again until the DVD was released or unless you recorded them on a crappy VHS.

Wallace and Gromit is all about the detail – you can freeze the film on pretty much any frame and find something funny going on somewhere that you hadn't picked up on. You can marvel at the finger prints on Gromit's face or at the sly arching of his mono-brow.

With the previous films the only way you could really indulge a passion for repeated viewing and frame by frame Gromit gratification was by buying a DVD. Owning the DVD meant you owned a little piece of Wallace & Gromit's heritage, a piece of their world.

You can watch AMOLAD again and again on the iPlayer for free (in the UK) for the 7 days following each of its broadcasts. Sixteen and a half million people watched AMOLAD on Christmas day on BBC1 and millions then went on to re-watch it on the iPlayer. Many of them, I am sure, will no longer feel the need to buy it on DVD having gorged on all that detail on their laptops.

So how are we going to finance the next film if DVD publishers can't afford to pony up a substantial advance for DVD rights now worth a fraction of what they were worth even 2 years ago? And if we can't afford to make another Wallace and Gromit, what are the BBC going to show in its place ... and how is that going to get financed?

Consumers are going to have to pay for their content online – either through an enhanced license fee (and surely you will soon need to use your TV License account number to watch the iPlayer I think), through subscription or micro-payments or pay as you go online content accounts or TV Everywhere

Some people won't like it. These people believe it is their right to get content for free on the web. A huge educational initiative is required to teach kids the basics of copyright law and to explain that disaster that will befall us all if we can't get paid for our artistic endeavors.

More people that you think won't mind. I was amused by this post on TechCrunch today where the writer gave us a list of all things that he currently gets for free that he would be prepared to pay for. I think he got a bit carried away with his theme, if push came to shove he'd ditch half of them but the very fact that he is raising the idea of paying feels very new
and very encouraging.

All we would need to make the next Wallace an Gromit film would be for the BBC to pay us a few pence for every iPlayer viewing and we'd be away. How on earth will I sell them that idea ....