Civil War in the Information Industries
Wine research has been taking up most of my time of late, impeding me from commenting on recent developments in video platforms which demonstrate the deepening some already pronounced tendencies. Having launched a war against software developers from 1999 (with the litigation against Napster), and begun prosecution of individuals downloading music in september 2003 (although there had been isolated and dissimilar cases prior to that), the media wars have now gone internecine, as evidenced by Viacom’s one billion dollar suit against Google.
The latter are no strangers to litigation from copyright owners (see the various fights around google.news, their library digitization project etc) and will hardly be intimidated by their new opponents. Google, of course, are fundamentally an advertising company who have built their success through continually expanding the information available through their services and building the value of their ads through infomation-collection about their user-base. “Information wants to be free” has found its materialization in Google in a finessed version of what was the mechanism for free over-the-air terrestrial television.
The acquisition of youtube.com will eventually be seen as the bargain that it was – given the brand-value accrued through being first on the market to make an impact – and even these one billion dollar lawsuits are small beer in the context of a battle to dominate and monetise the infoscape. Meanwhile the diabolical Fox Group have announced a partnership with NBC (with Sony, Viacom, CBS and Time Warner also rumoured to be interested) to launch a rival to youtube which will be a mix of ad-supported and pay-per-view material. Yet these mooted collaborators have different agendas amongst themselves, with AOL-Time Warner attached to an internet and cable strategy, whilst Sony tries to re-center itself on electronic devices (partiularly the mobile phone). My suspicion is that these companies, having systematically screwed up their strategy since the 1990s, are on a loser again. Ask Steve Jobs, after all, to whose iTunes they handed over a large chunk of the music industry free, gratis and for nothing.
And is it not ominous for such a project that at the same moment such a plan is announced EMI reveal that they are about to make available DRM-free music via iTunes and other retailers? This represents anothing less than a capitulation to the new social mode of treating media objects by a generation of users anthropologically distinct from their predecessors who took paying for media commodities as normal. Today, if you don’t want to pay, or regard DRM as an inconvenience, the alternative solution to your needs is just a couple of clicks away, be it called Rapidshare, Bit Torrent, Emule or Limewire. Google’s ace in the hole is that free is the best means to acquire attention and thus bring down the cost-per-contact calculation determinant in the advertising industry.
If you agree with this analysis then the question is what will be the ramifications of such a conflict between Google and the remains of the media industry for users. My view is that there is a convergence of interests with Google, but that their information-collection practices must be constrained. This data-mining is generating a lot of dystopian visions right now (see ‘Google’s Masterplan‘ and ‘EPIC 2014‘), but they tend to overlook the wider context of intra-industry conflict Google is operating in, a point which is not irrelevant in terms of our interests as users.
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