Commentary—Ad Revenue, Distance Learning, and Piracy: Three White Elephants Waiting to be Shot Down

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Actually (and a huge thanks to Dave Ingles from Lancaster University and Dom Pates from Study Group for a vast array of insights here), I found our second elephant lumbering around in the classrooms and lecture theatres. And again it’s a production problem.

While the technology has been put into many facilities (and so cameras, encoders, editing, workflow, and publishing are often all in place) there is a fundamental problem still to overcome: To make the content something that students can endure, it has to be produced properly. A fixed camera with half a teacher and one visible arm talking inaudibly far from a microphone about something written on a whiteboard you can’t see just doesn’t help. This means you need to either train and train and train your lecturers/teachers to stand in place, and manage their own microphone and switches to whiteboard “full screen” shots and then back to their own camera shot, or you need to add the cost of having an additional person move the camera, sort the audio and switch the encoder between the sources as needed. 

So what has happened is that distance learning/video archiving of lectures has been propositioned and on paper it all looks fantastic–enhancing reach for teaching, creating a valuable archive for reference, etc.  Off the back of this proposition lots of hardware has been installed. Certainly here in the UK, interactive whiteboards are prolific. Virtual learning environments are common. But the streaming workflows are collecting dust.

Why? Because to get a production crew in place turns the low-budget “ad-hoc” capture of lectures into a major cost. And once you start adding these costs you want to “do it right,” so you have rehearsals, multiple camera angles to capture Q&A sessions, etc.

A lecture starts to look like a corporate announcement–and in my experience the production of a corporate announcement typically starts at around £5,000 and goes up to many tens of thousands.

Clearly these production budgets are just nonsensical in an education environment for all but the most important lectures or classes.

Until this production is automated utterly and to good quality it seems to me that distance learning kit is destined to sit in the corner and wait for very occasional use. And those “libraries of education videos” are thus not growing fast, nor providing a wide range of resources as they were intended.

White Elephant number 2 hits the lecture theatre floor and dies from a compass wound….

Music Piracy

This white elephant has amused me for years. In fact it is the single thing that motivated me to engage with streaming many years ago.

It’s quite simple. The music industry formed around a monopoly that prevented copying of their content by owning the medium and the copying machines.

The internet functions by copying data from one end of a wire to another. That’s how it works.

You couldn’t get two more mutually exclusive positions.

And the problem is the internet services most industry verticals, not just music distribution. So just because it breaks the music industry’s historical copy monopoly this doesn’t mean that the music industry can have the internet shut down–too many other forces will prevent that.

And still we see DRM technologies try (and always fail) to prevent piracy. You can’t prevent copying on the Internet. It’s HOW THE INTERNET WORKS. Deal with it and move on.

I was speaking to a group of rights holders at recent event that was focussed on piracy. They were asking me to outline how they could protect and monetise their rights online, and I went through some of the technologies and methods that I am aware of that purport to make the initial copyright theft at least difficult but caveated that it was almost impossible to prevent the piracy without preventing the content from being published. After running through all of this, I put a question to them: Had any of them done the disaster recovery planning for the scenario “what if you simply cant maintain royalty and rights models in the future?” Not a single one had. In fact, for a group of people managing such issues, I was deeply concerned that they were all simply relying on technology or regulation to solve this problem for them, while in actuality there is probably very little either can do.

White Elephant number 3 turns around three times and rolls over on top of the recording industry, crushing it flat.

So to conclude I am pretty sure most of you have at least thought all of these situations through, but I’ll bet many of you are still operating in the belief that these white elephants will just vanish by the time your own business models come into conflict with them.

All I can say is, as with the rights holder group I spoke about above, its vital that you rigorously test your model and validate that white elephants like these are not being ignored.

I would be keen to hear of any other glaringly obvious problems in the streaming business models world. Its amazing how we can ignore these things and pay attention to other much more meaningless detail!

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