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IPTV/VoD: The world that's on its way

Part two: The television revolution

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

The Holy Grail of IPTV and its ultimate promise is that by being powered by the internet it can offer unlimited TV and radio channels from all over the world, and access to every piece of content ever created in human history. TV menus will no longer carry a few hundred channels from broadcasters in a subscriber's country and its neighbours, but literally millions from every country in the world, of any size, made by anyone. Every TV channel, radio channel, movie, TV programme, video game, music album, piece of software, picture, mobile accessory or multimedia presentation can be accessed in any country, anywhere, by anyone, on any device from wherever they are, whenever they want.

The reasoning for DRM in the new digital age resulted from some serious futurology done by the record labels rather than a panic over copyright. Digital files don't lose quality like analogue copies, and so can't be trusted to disappear into the ether after a few years with the masters being retained by the owners in a studio bookcase somewhere. They worked out very quickly that with the internet being what it is, there was no way to be able to control the distribution of digital files, but that the only thing they could control would be the ability to access the file itself.

DRM reflects an old business model trying to survive a new generation's demands, but in itself is organised madness. Consumers hate it, it creates pain, its proprietary when it needs to be cross platform and transparent, and most importantly it negates the web's most powerful asset – its viral nature.

The new world means that your media will travel with you wherever you go, in any country, on any device, any time you want it. Subscribers will have a global account that is accessible on all of their devices and locations that stores their preferences, rights and demographic information (i.e. their profile). Information about customers and their personalisation preferences will be centralised, and be accessed by decentralised (or localised) delivery equipment. The rights model that divides into countries, platforms and time periods will be challenged by this new idea of portable settings and access as the purchase of the media will be tied to a person rather than a place, device or time.

That's a very scary thought for most content rights holders. Scary enough to make you pursue racketeering of the very people who buy your products. It ranks up there with the dreaded idea of cannibalisation.

It's been reported many times that movie studios don't sell cinema tickets; they sell DVDs and act as investment banks. Of every 10 movies, seven lose money, two break even and one actually makes money. Doing anything to upset the apple cart, like video on-demand, might tempt consumers from buying those lovely, over-priced plastic discs and mean they won't make much money.

The situation is changing slowly, but isn't helped when brilliant executives are frustrated by their more senior colleagues who don't "get" digital media.

This again is utter madness. Every time a company expands, creates a new product, or a trend forces them to re-position, there is the risk of cannibalisation. Cash cows and margins don't last forever, and change happens whether any of us like it or not, as it's life's modus operandi. Fearing that is the same as fearing a new product or life itself.

Digital distribution means no physical packaging costs – all the perpetual revenues with none of the costs. It's a content producer's wet dream, and a powerful complimentary service to be offered gradually alongside what's there now, in the knowledge that it will eventually replace it over time when consumers have adjusted.

As Bill Gates rightly predicted, the ownership of physical merchandise will cease to exist and we will rent access to artistic works over a network for a period of allocated time.

Convergence messes everything up, and we can't pretend that yesterday's ways of doing things will fit today's and tomorrow's problems. Contracts for intellectual property are an art form that make lawyers drool in anticipation of the juicy, chunky fees they can charge because of the length of time it will take to put the jargon together that makes up the eventual 5in legal booklet known as an agreement.

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