You are here

Dealing with Digital Content in a Convergent Environment

We've now moved to a plenary session on converging media policy. Now that media convergence is finally starting to happen, there may be a number of crucial effects of this development, and there need to be new policy approaches to address them. The first speaker is Edgar Berger, the CEO of Sony BMG Germany. He begins by discussing the impact of digital technologies on the music industry. To begin with, business is now no longer done only with specialised retailers - music is also being licenced to telcos, games developers, online content providers, and many other partners. The music video market is also changing: videos are now being downloaded for a fee by users rather than being distributed for free to music television stations. For the consumer, the experience of music has also changed thoroughly - it is now available anywhere, anytime through the Internet and mobile devices in a wide variety of forms including ringtones, mobile video, and other new digital formats. There is special growth in the mobile world, and in what's called dual delivery - consumers buying a song once for access on mobiles and PC-based media. Digital media also changes the creative process: consumers discover musical acts on the Internet and it is only after this discovery that contracts are signed with music industry players. The question of 'piracy' is also raised here, and Berger restates very clearly Sony BMG's commitment to pursuing 'piracy', while balancing this with consumer rights (but remains vague on how he intends to do this). Is digitisation a risk or an opportunity for the music industry, then? There is a dual strategy here - of combatting copyright infringement while embracing the opportunities of digital media at the same time.

Up next is media and IP lawyer Christoph Wagner; he also notes the question of intellectual property infringement and the fairly strict laws combatting illegal downloads which are coming online in Germany in a few months. If there is a digital rights management system in place, then downloading of such content even for private use is no longer permitted, and will be prosecuted even in the case of minor infringements. This was justified by lawmakers by the increasing dependence on intellectual property generation in the German economy. By comparison, in France parliamentarians very actively rewrote a proposed bill to create a fundamental right to make private copies regardless of any protective measures which may have been in place. The EU's reaction to such conflicting copyright protection laws still remains to be seen. There are also some moves to force encryption of satellite channels now.

Gerhard Möller of Ernst & Young is the next speaker. He summarised a survey of major European telco and technology companies, which has been published in a recent study called The Next Generation Gap. Convergence has now finally arrived, and there is a strong consumer appetite for new products; this erodes traditional certainties amongst telcos and technology companies. They had to invest a great deal in new technologies in recent times, but the policy environment for such technologies is only developing, which means that early investors (especially in network technologies) may not be protected as much as they might have hoped for. Consumption patterns are changing very strongly as well, especially towards digital downloads - there are some indications that consumers are 'bandwidth-hungry' because of these uses. For telcos, this also means that legacy revenues (e.g. on fixed phones) are in decline - in response to this, then, they need content to provide to customers, and need to work out how to package content and access packages to create attractive new options for customers.

Finally to Jo Groebel. He notes that the role of politics and the public also needs to be addressed here. What is the role of public broadcasters here, for example? This may be an especially crucial issue for smaller European and other countries, where there is no critical mass to sustain all of the new convergent media and consumption practices which may be emerging. Home-grown content, indeed, remains extremely important even in the face of global convergence - and in small countries such content may exist perhaps mostly in public broadcasting. Groebel notes that young people now often state that the Internet is the most credible news source, not because its content is somehow better, but because they are able to control the flow of information. But what this points to, perhaps, is the need for remaining public broadcasters who apply the highest standards to their information. Such broadcasters would also provide a forum for marginalised groups as they do not operate purely on commercially driven grounds, and can fulfil an educative role for society as well. Finally, too, there is a need for public innovation and technology rollout systems as well - this cannot be left to commercial players alone as this leads to a disparate distribution of such technologies in different areas.

Charles Steinfield responds to these presentations with two questions. To begin with, he notes a recent report by the Open Society Institute on the health of European media. There are some 4000 television channels in greater Europe, and television viewership remains high. State television has given way to public service broadcasting and commercial services, but there remains limited diversity due to an increasing ownership concentration. Do more channels and more platforms really mean more diversity, therefore, or is there a strong need for contuinuing government policy intervention? Another question relates to content licencing issues: should there be a greater separation between content and conduit, to ensure interoperability?

Finally, Philip Napoli notes another type of convergence: that between content producers and consumers. What are the policy implications arising from this point? (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edgar Berger does not see any...)

Technorati : , , , , : , , , ,