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IPTV/VoD: The fall of content's kingdom

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Caching threatens backbone operators' revenues, so they are the first proponents, and ISPs are desperate to use it to reduce their costs. But caching is a Trojan horse employed by content owners as it allows the identification of traded files, in their complete form. Identify the file and you can stop its transmission. Systems that just identify illegal files would never be bought or accepted by ISPs on their own, but when it also saves them pain, content operators have a perfect vehicle in which to invade their market to manipulate it for their own ends. Look at the investment in these companies and you will begin to see a trend. Stealth is the new strategy.

The cat and mouse game between P2P networks and content owners is fought in an ISP's back garden, hence why they are hesitant to get involved, for like the Romans, as long as their enemies are at war with each other, they are not at war with them. And that battle is enough to make you dizzy.

The typical story tends to go something like this. Start-up bases itself in a foreign country with liberal copyright laws and builds an audience, claiming it doesn't actually promote or facilitate illegal copyright invasion. Content industry responds by suing and getting the company shut down by local authorities. Company releases product as open source. Content industry shuts down central servers. Open source community makes architecture decentralised and logs requests from clients owned by the content industry. Content owners sue individual consumers. ISP blocks ports to restrict traffic. Community upgrades to use random ports or ports reserved for other services. ISP filters by traffic type. Community upgrades again to use encryption, blocking shaping system from recognising traffic. ISP bans IP ranges. Community uses new IP ranges and proxy mechanisms.

It goes on, and on, and on, and on, round and round, ad infinitum. And throughout all, piracy just keeps growing and growing. Every warning or advert gives it more momentum. But this isn't radio. It's ordinary people. Ordinary consumers who are trying to tell us something that everyone is refusing to listen to.

A lot of the content industry's problems come from insularity, and it's a lot easier to see that when you're on the outside, as many ISPs are. Theirs is an exclusive club, massively reinforced and defended from outside influence. These are high-profile businesses with incredible popular products that see them fielding off requests from everywhere, all day long. Their cynicism has become institutional. They simply have too much business and can't get involved in it all. They have got into a habit of closing the door to new people, ideas and new business. The only way in is to know someone who can make an introduction. It's particularly bad in the US and the UK, the latter run exclusively on "who you know" as its modus operandi.

Even movie stars now complain that the big studios are simply investment banks, and it's undeniable that the benevolent age of Broadway "angels" who funded great art in a philanthropic way have been succeeded by those who are solely looking for a better return on their earned cash than the banks can give. Productions these days run into hundreds of millions of pounds and the benchmarks for success have got higher as the decades have gone on. Compensation culture from the states has arrived slowly in Europe, and consequently every great idea is forced to be sterilised and neutered by legal departments before it's released. Great entertainment is out, profitability and returns are in.

It's evident everywhere you look. Record companies now tend to invest in fast turnaround, cash-spinning singles instead of long-term development. Performers are so marketing-driven that they are virtually manufactured on a production line, treated as a commercial brand and commoditised. Public service broadcasters consider themselves to be in competition with commercial networks, and they are the only people with power the production companies respond to. The whole reality TV genre is based on it being cheap, and participation systems are there to prop up lost advertising income that has fallen away due to the take-up of multi-channel digital television. Video games companies are going bust ten to the dozen. Put simply, nobody takes risks anymore.

Consumers aren't stupid. They know that the quality of content has been spiralling downward for years, and the price rising. You can't blame piracy for everything. The truth is, what's out there right now is crap. It's an uncomfortable truth we all need to acknowledge, whether we agree with it or not - the perception is all that matters. Industry execs will dispute it until they are blue in the face, but only with other people in their industry, which speaks volumes. Content owners are wildly out of touch with their customers, and should expect to drift further as long as they continue to persecute them or rip them off with ever-rising prices.

Intellectual property rights are also in a state of flux as they tend to be broken down to the smallest divisions to ensure maximum profitability, such as the technical platform they run on, the country they are viewed in, and the time period they can be consumed in. All that breaks down with IP networks as they are geography-independent, run over multiple convergent devices and transport media that never degrades. You could safely say the entire content-owner world is turned upside down. It's the absolute opposite to what they are used to.

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