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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

NAB Futures Summit: MPAA, RIAA, NAB, and CEA talk tech and policy

I'm at the National Association of Broadcasters' Futures Summit today, down in Pebble Beach. It's rainy today, so no one's on the golf courses and the room is full.


I had a fun panel first thing in the morning, featuring Mika Salmi, CEO of Atom Films and Rik Kinney, EVP of NeoPets. We talked a bit about why users gravitate toward certain sites (among them NeoPets, Atom, MySpace, YouTube) and spend scads of time there.


The main emphasis was that the old broadcasting paradigm was about telling viewers or listeners what was interesting, and trying to provide thin, general interest coverage of the news. The new paradigm is about viewers and listeners selecting the stuff they're interested in. It may be weird or poorly-produced (we looked at some breakdancing videos from Google Video), but users make the choice about what they want to view. And often, with news, they want the most informed, deepest information about a topic. They don't want to hear Wall Street reporting from the local TV station in Augusta, Georgia - they want it from Bloomberg.


We talk a bit about the "Sears catalog" approach to media - trying to be all things to all people. That seems increasingly outmoded. I put forth the idea that users will create queues (a la NetFlix) of video content from the Net they want to watch on their TV. Some of it may be news or sports segments produced by the local TV station, added automatically based on an individual's interests. Some of it may be home-grown videos added because a friend or colleague recommended them. You'll want to watch this queue on your TV - and no good technology exists yet to bring Internet programming to the TV, easily.


Morgan Guenther, whom I met a few years ago when he was president of TiVo, is up next. He talks about the start-up he's running, AirPlay Network. They're trying to get people using their mobile phones to play along with reality shows, sporting events, and game shows. (I.E., guess what play the quarterback's going to call next.) You can play against groups of your friends. The big challenge, to me, seems to be sending out the voting choices and collecting the votes quickly enough, before the next play happens.


The final panel of the conference is titled, `Tomorrow's Policies and Technologies: Where From Here?' On the panel are Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association; James Casserly, a lawyer who seems to represent the cable industry; Dan Glickman, head of the Motion Picture Association of America; Mitch Bainwol, head of the Recording Industry Association of America; and David Rehr, head of the National Association of Broadcasters.



- First topic is, All Digital Broadcasting in 2009. NAB chief David rehr says he doesn't think most Americans realize that if they buy an analog TV set today, it won't work after February 2009. He views that as an opportunity. Everyone agrees that its best to have the FCC and other gov't agencies involved as little as possible.


Glickman says he's for the broadcast flag. (That's a code added to a TV show, for instance, that prevents people from redistributing it.)


20 percent of American homes already have HD TVs, says Gary Shapiro of the CEA.


Rehr says there are 700 HD radio stations broadcasting already. Not enough people have receivers for it, though.


Shapiro says the RIAA hasn't been involved in the HD radio standards process over the last decade, and now they're trying to introduce legislation to slow it down, and prevent manufacturers from building receivers. He says the RIAA was 'missing in action all these years' - and that the RIAA wants to get a performance royalty for its artists from HD radio plays.


- Dan Glickman talks about content protection. "As Mitch just said, return on investment is the key to any business." The MPAA is trying to balance new technologies with content protection. Stories and entertainment are what people want from all this new technology, and it's important, he says, to make money by producing it. "Sensible, reasonable, intellectual property protection is the bottom line."


"You'll never stamp out piracy," Glickman says. "You just have to manage it the best you can, and technology is one of the best ways to manage that piracy." The right strategy is by offering hassle-free, reasonable-cost ways to buy stuff, and using DRM to protect content. "If we can't find ways to get more and more people to see and listen to our stuff, our business is not going to be very good on a bottom-line basis."


Rehr says its important to move the broadcast flag forward, and keep controversial issues away from gumming up the legislation.


Shapiro responds to Glickman: what's reasonable and senisble to you isn't the same thing as what's reasonable and sensible to consumer electronics makers. He lashes out at the MPAA for trying to neuter new technologies like the VCR and the iPod.


Glickman says the problem is that consumers often want content for free. He emphasizes that it's important for his members (the movie studios) to offer content in a hassle-free, reasonable-cost way -- "or else we'll be left in the lurch."


Shapiro responds by pointing out that some content (music, TV, movies) has always been available for free. He picks up a bottle of Dasani water, and says that people can get tap water for free - but they still buy Dasani. Shapiro starts to build up a head of steam. He says the music and movie industries always complain about phenomenal losses, and warn that their industries will disappear if technology prospers. "Every one of those technologies has created new opportunities for creativity... This panel represents 12 big companies -- not tens of thousands of new creators and artists that have been allowed to flourish because of these new [consumer] devices. You don't have a monopoly on creativity."


Glickman says, "I don't want to adapt ourselves out of business. It's important to protect creators' rights."


Bainwol says that the music industry is down by a third. (I presume he means overall revenues.) Shapiro says that people may be spending their money on video games. But Bainwol continues: 14 million iPods were sold in the fourth quarter of last year, so it's clear that "people love music," he says. But the recording industry's revenues are still sagging. The result is that "a third of the artists are gone, wiped away, they can't sustain a living. There's a real cultural and economic impact," Bainwol says.


Shapiro says that plenty of new technologies and new ideas don't wind up having an impact on media (he mentions an idea about using radios to issue coupons), but that it's still important to experiment.