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Big Brother Defends Rights Of Small Creators

by David Fox

"Broadcasting is the least prepared of the content industries for change because it has been protected and regulated for so long," keynote speaker, Peter Bazalgette, creative director, GMG Endemol Entertainment, told Broadcast Content Management 2000.

"What we got were fat, long, lethargic, vertically integrated companies," whereas software, music and publishing industries were more prepared for convergence.

Even now that TV has realised the world is changing, he believes broadcasters and regulators are too concerned with the technical agenda of implementing the Internet. But it is not just a matter of technology and fat pipes. "Why build pipes if you don't have anything decent to put down them," he said.

The UK, at least, has "some pretty good pipes", with broadband cable passing over half the homes, it is also home to three digital services and the world's biggest mobile phone company, but this won't mean anything without content, which isn't helped by the fact that the UK TV production base is relatively small and fragmented. There is already a shortage of content and it could get worse.

His solution is greater access for independent producers, ensuring Intellectual Property Rights revenues with separate pricing for Internet rights, no warehousing (which prevents selling a programme to other channels), and there must be a release of rushes from the broadcaster for repackaging and the creation of more content.

When enough viewers move to digital and the analogue spectrum is sold off (possibly in 2006 in the UK), he hopes that some of that revenue is used "as an investment fund for truly commercial content for new media."

With programmes like Ready Steady Cook, Changing Rooms and Ground Force, "my company has been accused of watching paint dry, water boil and grass grow," he said. But, "the business of Ready Steady Cook is more serious than what is seen on TV." Besides programmes in the UK and around the world, there are also books, live shows, magazines and merchandise, which he believes is a perfect example of the intangible assets that are going to drive the content economy. "Intangible assets are going to be very important. It's the way the new media economy is going."

Ten years ago, he owned no rights. He was just a "hired gun," as the broadcaster owned all the rights "and did bugger all with them." Now he shares rights with the broadcaster. However, despite co-owning the rights to its series with the BBC, it can't get agreement to put them on the Net. Channel 4 also wants to hold on to all the online rights. "Broadcasters are protecting their ancient position and it has got to change," he stated.

One of Endemol's biggest successes, Big Brother, which was already a hit in Holland and Germany, before making it big in the US and on Channel 4 in the UK. With its round-the-clock coverage of the lives of ten people in a single house, it proved an ideal way of showing the Web's potential to support a programme. Although only half-hour highlights were shown each day on TV, viewers could see it at any time on the Internet and interact by voting which participants should stay or go. "It was extremely controversial and highly successful," he said, with 60 million hits on the Web site during its first run in Holland. In Spain, on a pay-TV channel which used get a 4% share, it got a 55% share against a Real Madrid v Bayern Munich European Cup match. He believes formats like this are an ideal way of driving people to both the Net and TV.

In recognition of the importance of creating (and owning) good content, GMG Endemol is now taking shareholdings in groups of comedy writers and other talented content creators. He believes TV has been creative by accident and should organise itself more like the advertising industry, which has long recognised that it survives or falls by the quality of its ideas. To copy it, TV needs to give people better incentives to come up with good ideas.

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Content By Right

"After ensuring access to a range of content creators, you would need to ensure Intellectual Property Rights," he added. IPR protection is "the key to a healthy creative economy, because if you don't have revenue, you don't have an economy."

Too often, as with MP3, Intellectual Property Rights are being ignored by Internet companies. Some are also transmitting TV and Film content without paying for it, which will increase as the technology allows it. However, it is not easy to combat because the Internet is international. So, any regulation, especially of Intellectual Property Rights, has to be also. "It is crucial to content creators that this is done internationally and done with a light touch," he told the conference.

GMG Endemol is itself moving a lot more into the Internet and interactive space, such as its purchase of a half-share in new media production company, Victoria Real, a few months ago. It is also in due diligence at present to be bought by Telefonica, which also owns most of the company behind Lycos. "People with content have got to get in touch with people who own pipes," he explained.

Whereas 18 months ago he was worried he wasn't involved with a company which owns a TV channel, now he doesn't care, as within 10 years, he believes TV channels will no longer matter.

At present, he sees the main choices which have to be made as between: full Internet convergence, where everything is available to anyone; and digital islands (or walled gardens), which see the consumer as needing to be protected from choice; and between total mobility, where everything can be accessed via mobile devices, and a broadband revolution, where the speed of the wired world means that mobiles are just an adjunct. He admits those options are not mutually exclusive.

The key, for him, to making convergence work is access. "Having a competitive content supply market is crucial." In the US in the 60s, the syn-fin rules meant that networks could only own rights to news and sport, which led to a vigorous, competitive content creation market growing up, something which hasn't been seen in Europe. If there must be vertical integration, he will accept it, provided independent producers are given access.

He believes too many politicians are caught up in the old way of thinking, where they want to regulate content, rather than dealing with what he feels is the much more important issue of economic regulation in new media, which will ensure competition. Besides, given the openness of the Net, content regulation can't work.

He also has problems with the current state of Electronic Programme Guides, which are owned by the platform providers, and are designed to drive viewers to particular channels. Instead, he'd like an EPG that allows you enter the name of a programme, or type or producer of the shows you like (such as The Simpsons, or a Bazal production), to get the programme you want.

He believes this will inevitably happen anyway, as "scheduling will be dead in ten years, due to PVRs, the Internet and EPGs."

  © 2000 - 2010

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David Fox