Monday, February 21, 2005

02/20/05: Berkely CyberSalon on IPTV

I recently met Sylvia Paull and was fascinated by what a connector she seems to be. She runs all sorts of regular get-togethers for those interested in culture and technology (and I hear she's a part-time matchmaker too!)

This Sunday I went to my first Berkeley CyberSalon with my S.O. and my pal Elle.

Let me just warn you not to use Yahoo Maps for the directions because they sucked. We got lost (none of us being East Bay Aficianados) and ended up having to call Cingular's information number to get directions.

Once we actually found the Hillside Club we found a room that was already filling pretty quickly. Sylvia herself said she had predicted the evening's topic would attract a large crowd.

The topic: Internet TV
The panel:
-Moderator Jeff Ubois, all-around techno-dude with a special interest in archiving the ephemeral...television programming.
-Brad Horowitz of Yahoo
-Mr. Kim Spencer of LinkTV
-Janet Gardner of perspective Media (can't seem ot find a URL)
-Wendy Seltzer from the EFF

Jeff started out by giving an overview pointing out that television programming was ephemeral (love that word) but that Internet re-viewing of certain telecasts (the Jon Stewart "Crossfire" appearance being a recent example) were outpacing initial viewership on TV. Jeff is clearly a big fan of technology and channels that will allow new creators of media and new distribution channels for those creators and claims that traditional media isn't happy about it.

I would have to say that I doubt they're overly concerned about 1000 people with camcorders (even if they should be.) I would guess they're simply concerned that Internet distribution channels are ripe for piracy and illegal dissemination of the programming they put the money up front to produce. Here's the thing: I understand and even sympathize with that concern. When people start talking to me about some utopia where there will be a million available programs for every niche from every kind of producer, I tend to think about, oh I don't know: reality.

Like the fact that there are already hundreds of channels, most of them crap.

Like the fact the TV production takes funding. Sure, maybe not as much funding as most movies/TV shows end up taking...but money from somewhere. All those grand stories about indie film producers who make something on a shoestring budget...and then it makes millions of dollar...well, those filmmakers mortgaged their homes and maxed out their credit cards to do it. And it's the lucky few who get a real payback.

But I digress.

The most interesting thing Horowitz discussed was the new video search tool Yahoo launched this week. Unlike Google's video search tool, which just brings yo links to transcriptions of shows that are on video somewhere, Yahoo will actually link you to the video itself. I think it's kind of amusing that they're not going to concern themselves with whether the sites they link to have a legal right to show that video. I mean, wasn't that Napster's original argument...that it wasn't responsible for the links it brought you and what was available there?

Spencer then delivered a commercial for his programming site, calling it an outlet for progressive and international programming. Right now it's available both via DirecTV and streaming on the Internet...streaming not downloadable I believe.

Gardner was basically playing to a hostile crowd, and she didn't help herself by relying on a couple of really patronizing and simplistic schticks to make her point:

Schtick #1: All those poor "Gilligan's Island" actors who didn't get a share of syndication rights...isn't it terrible they can't get a shot at money from Internet distribution too?

As if the big media companies that are Gardner's clients would just hand out money from Internet deals to those poor schmos if they didn't have a contract for it. Not without a court order, baby. What a lame attempt to get us on your side!

Schtick #2: Oh, don't you worry your pretty little heads about the Broadcast Flag being transmitted with digital content. It's only 2 bits we're talking about after all. I'm sorry exactly how is the number of bits relevant to an argument over what those bits do?

The Broadcast Flag brouhaha actually came up during Seltzer's talk.

And Seltzer failed to help the audience relate to how the Broadcast Flag deal would actually impact the average everyday consumer. As my S.O. pointed makes people wanting to use their own content on their own devices criminals.

And as I'll point out, in a society that prizes mobility and freedom, it curtails both. Why exactly shouldn't a business man transfer 2 movies from his TiVo to his laptop before a business trip (whether from a premium paid service or free over-the-air service) and be free to watch them on the plane, or by hooking up a cable to his hotel TV?

This is not about protecting intellectual property or copyright. This is about protecting the revenues of PPV service providers!

I found fascinating the very last question (or rather, comment) from the crowd. Sylvia called on a young "hacker" in the crowd, and he, wise beyond his years, said "don't we already watch way too much TV?" This kid was saying hey, maybe we have to get out there and experience the world a little more, not be stuck in front of a screen of any kind! Sound familiar? It's exactly the point I brought up at the last Mobile Mondays meeting.

Here's Sylvia's own wrap-up of the evening.

Can't wait to see what topic will be addressed at next month's meeting!

Here's the panel:

Here's the crowd:

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