Feb 10, 2012

Customers, Control and Copyright

TV Now is a mobile app from Optus that allows customers to record free-to-air TV and play it back on any PC or mobile device. Telstra, the NRL and AFL objected to this service, but a judge recently ruled that Optus’ TV Now service is "substantially no different from a VCR or DVR" and does not violate Australian copyright law because users are recording content for their private and domestic use.

What this case highlights, according to Phil Dobbie over on Twisted Wire, is the “absurdity of somebody drawing up a contract for the IP delivery of content” and the importance of mobility and convenience to consumers. Like the media industry in the US and its response to the recent SOPA/PIPA legislation, Optus TV Now demonstrates how technology is meeting consumer demand whilst other industries are left scrambling to catch up – or trying to control the playing field.

Optus TV Now – Not the First of its Kind

TV Now from Optus allows its customers to choose which shows they want to record and then watch them on any PC or mobile device, wherever and whenever. But this also means that Optus customers can watch AFL and NRL games with a 90 second delay – not quite live, but pretty darn close. Meanwhile, Telstra has ‘exclusive’ rights to stream live coverage of AFL and NRL games to mobile devices – hence the conflict.

Like the reactions to cassette tapes, the VCR, and the DVR in the US, the AFL, NRL and Telstra are taking a narrow view of technology and the web. It seems the PVR is the latest technology that is threatening to “kill” an entire industry. But as the recent ruling shows, the law (and services like TV Now) are on the side of the consumer.

Content and Consumer Demand

Customers want convenience when it comes to their content and the technology is available to meet those demands. Mobility is becoming the norm and the individual wants to be in control.

We don’t want to be told what to watch and when. Instead of fighting the technology, the media giants need to embrace it and evolve. While the TV Now decision may be a blow to the $153 million dollar deal, as Dan Barrett said over on the Crikey blog, this is an opportunity: “Telstra need to fashion an experience that puts a valuable stamp on the broadcast. If sports fans come to associate the Telstra brand with a high quality viewing experience, they’ll be able to take ownership of the space.”

Whether we’re talking about live sport or not, the media industry have to think of new and innovative ways to engage customers and ‘monetise their eyeballs’.

Moving Forward

Technology and business can be natural partners, but as this case shows, they can also be at odds, especially as technology speeds ahead and business (and law) often struggles to keep up.

But knee-jerk reactions and attempts to make “small” changes to the law is not the answer. As SOPA/PIPA demonstrated, the potential collateral damage of these types of laws is often unplanned or ignored.

Consumers can get their content when and where they want. While they may sound like spoiled children, it’s also a reality that organisations must deal with if they want to compete today. The technology is available. The genie is out of the bottle. Rather than trying to control it, how can you adapt and use it to your advantage?

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