A Look at Radio Industry Consolidation

Saving Radio in the Satellite Era

The more urgent challenge is to begin searching for alternate ways to revive radio. Consolidation is not the only option. Today broadcast stations are beginning to convert their signals to the digital spectrum, which allows for each owner to operate multiple stations in the same space. To date, the F.C.C. has imposed few restrictions on the way radio stations use these new outlets. The commission is both giving away a precious public resource and squandering a historic opportunity to enliven the airwaves.

Fortunately, there is a solution: Require every station that wants to add to its holdings to broadcast a minimum level of original, live and local material. This proposal is based on one of the most successful broadcast policies in American history. In the 1960s, when the F.C.C. opened the FM dial, AM stations rushed to acquire licenses — but then simulcast the same shows they were already playing. This was not what regulators had in mind, so they ruled that FM stations had to play original content on at least half of their programming hours. Because radio companies didn’t want to invest much in FM, they ceded control of their studios to young people and amateur broadcasters. The result was the advent of free-form music radio, with programs so fresh and compelling that listeners flocked to FM and stayed there — at least until corporate broadcasters standardized it, too.

It’s time for Congress and the F.C.C. to consider policy ideas intended to serve the public interest, like requiring broadcast radio stations to air original programming on the new digital stations, or allowing satellite companies to run local news, talk and music. Mega-mergers are unlikely to provide any real benefits to citizens and consumers. Why resort to even more consolidation when we already know it doesn’t work?

Platforms for User-Generated Content

A CBS Take on the YouTube Madness

The CSTV Networks division of the CBS Corporation is starting a campaign today with the theme “Are you fan enough?,” inviting viewers to upload the do-it-yourself video clips to a community section of the CSTV Web site (cstv.com/postup). The campaign will appear on CSTV and cstv.com all during March Madness — officially, the men’s basketball tournament of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which begins on March 15 — and will end after the championship game is played in Atlanta on April 2.

The campaign represents the largest effort to date by CSTV to take part in a popular trend known as user-generated content, which seeks to capitalize on the eagerness of younger consumers to produce and share video clips on Web sites like MySpace and YouTube.

“This campaign is about the voice of the fans,” said Brian T. Bedol, president and chief executive at CSTV Networks in New York. “It says CSTV is a brand that connects college sports fans to their passion.”

America is experiencing the rise of “a video filmmaker culture,” Mr. Bedol said, now that “video cameras are in the hands of millions of everyday citizens in the form of digital cameras, camcorders and cellphones.”

Love It

Another example of the merits of Charlie Nesson’s view on how to some of these problems will get resolved: Which Videos Are Protected? Lawmakers Get a Lesson – New York Times

As the new Congress experiments with the wide world of blogging and video clips, members are learning the complexities of copyright law, much the way the casual YouTube user has learned that there are corporations out there that own “Lost” and can stop you from posting a favorite episode.

The introduction began awkwardly this month when the House Republican Study Committee issued a news release accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of “pirating” 16 copyrighted clips of House floor debate from the public affairs network C-Span by including them on her new blog, The Gavel.

[…] The speaker’s spokesman, Brendan Daly, used the opportunity to decry “yet another baseless attack of the Republicans; in this case they have retracted it.”

But last week, as it happens, C-Span did contact the speaker’s office to have it take down a different clip from her blog — one shot by C-Span’s cameras at a House Science and Technology Committee hearing on global warming where Ms. Pelosi testified, Mr. Daly said. (The blog has substituted material filmed by the committee’s cameras, he said.)

C-Span, a private nonprofit company financed by the cable and satellite affiliates that carry its programming, says that over more than 25 years of operating it has consistently asserted its copyright to any material it shoots with its own cameras. But that message can get lost.

“The Sky Is Falling”

Videos have Net bursting at the seamspdf

Those amusing YouTube video clips that Internet users send to friends gobble up large chunks of bandwidth and may cause the Net to crash, some elements of the telecom industry warn.

It’s an admonition many dismiss as political posturing intended to dissuade lawmakers from restricting the freedom of phone companies to manage Internet traffic as they wish.

[…] A recent report from Deloitte Consulting raised the possibility that 2007 would see Internet demand exceed capacity. Worldwide, more users every day join the 1 billion people who now use the Internet. Popularity of bandwidth-hungry video makes far greater demands on the network than more basic applications like e-mail, Web browsing or even voice over the Internet.

[…] The Deloitte report, along with comments earlier this month by a Google executive at a technology conference in Amsterdam about Web capacity problems, have been cited as examples why telecom companies shouldn’t face new regulations.

[…] Walter McCormick Jr., chief of US Telecom, the trade group representing dominant phone companies, wrote to lawmakers arguing that the need to manage capacity would be impeded if “network neutrality” legislation passes.

Backed by several consumer groups as well as large Internet enterprises such as Google, network neutrality legislation forbids phone companies from managing the network to favor one Internet user’s content over another’s.

Network managers need flexibility in order to provide needed capacity as demand grows, McCormick contends.

That logic is tortured at best, said Andrew Odlyzko, director of the University of Minnesota’s digital technology center.

“It’s posturing for political reasons,” said Odlyzko. “The telecom industry opposes network neutrality and uses any pretext to fight it.”

[…] Telecom executives focus on possible broadband capacity shortfalls because of their heritage, said David Isenberg, an independent industry analyst who once worked for the Bell System.

“They want to manage the Internet as a scarce resource,” Isenberg said. “Internet executives want to manage it as an abundant resource. It’s a basic philosophical difference.”

Experimentation Continues

But, with rhetoric like this, is any real progress being made? Software Exploited by Pirates Goes to Work for Hollywood

On Monday, the company, whose technology unleashed a wave of illegal file-sharing on the Internet, plans to unveil the BitTorrent Entertainment Network on its Web site, BitTorrent.com. The digital media store will offer around 3,000 new and classic movies and thousands more television shows, as well as a thousand PC games and music videos each, all legally available for purchase.

The programming comes from studios, including Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount and Warner Brothers, that previously announced their intention to work with BitTorrent. There is also a new partner: the 83-year-old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which will take part by making 100 films available on the site from its 4,000-movie library. “Somebody once said you have to embrace your enemy,” said Doug Lee, executive vice president of MGM’s new-media division. “We like the idea that they have millions of users worldwide. That is potentially fertile, legitimate ground for us.”

The BitTorrent store will work slightly differently than rival digital media offerings like the iTunes Store of Apple and the Xbox Live service of Microsoft. BitTorrent will commingle free downloads of users’ own video uploads with sales of professional fare. And while it will sell digital copies of shows like “24” and “Bones” for $1.99 an episode, it will only rent movies. Once the films are on the PC, they expire within 30 days of their purchase or 24 hours after the buyer begins to watch them.

LATimes Editorial On Alcatel v Microsoft

Patent problems in patent lawpdf (see this earlier post)

THE PATENT SYSTEM in the United States is so dysfunctional that it can even generate sympathy for Microsoft.

[…] The purpose of patents, like copyrights, is to promote innovation by giving inventors exclusive rights to use and distribute their creations for a limited time. There’s no requirement that a patent holder create products based on the invention; to do so would give big companies an unfair advantage over small players with good ideas. But lately there’s been a trend in the opposite direction: Patent holders stay on the sidelines while large companies build the market for a technology, then the patent holders claim that their rights have been infringed and demand compensation.

[…] The threat posed by this trend is that technology companies will limit their products’ capabilities to minimize unexpected patent claims. That’s the exact opposite of what patent law was designed to do.

RIAA Pushing The Boundaries

RIAA appeals attorneys’ fees award

Throughout its legal attacks on file sharers, the RIAA has argued that the owners of ISP accounts used to share copyrighted material should be held liable, even if they had no knowledge of the alleged infringement. Judge West called the RIAA’s secondary infringement claims “untested and marginal” in his order, a characterization the labels take issue with.

Instead, the plaintiffs argue that if the defendant has “a reason to know” of the infringing activity, she should be held liable. The RIAA also points to Foster’s subscriber agreement with Cox Communications, her ISP, which the RIAA says “expressly required” her to keep others using her account from infringing copyrights.

As others have pointed out, this is one way for the RIAA to quash unprotected wi-fi.

Plagiarism? Or Commensuration?

An example of a topic I and others have been working on lately — when does reliance upon metrics to do more than support human judgment happen, and when does it lead us astray? (Note: according to this article, not this time): Too Perfect Harmonypdf

The alleged hoax, in which the recorded works of pianist Joyce Hatto have been called into question, was uncovered using database software that automatically identifies CDs so that fans don’t have to manually enter artist and track information when they load the music onto their computers. Technology helped enable the alleged trickery; a newer technology uncovered it.

When a reader of the British classical music magazine Gramophone loaded a Hatto disc onto his computer, the database correctly identified it as a performance of a Franz Liszt piano composition — but marked it as a CD recorded by another pianist, Laszlo Simon. The technology behind the CD database, operated by Gracenote, a California company, indexes data on about 4 million CDs. The lengths of tracks on Hatto’s and Simon’s albums were identical, causing the database to make what appeared to be a mistake.

Or was it a mistake? The reader contacted a Gramophone critic, who played the Simon recording on iTunes, compared it to the Hatto recording and found that the two CDs sounded the same. The magazine passed the matter to independent sound engineers, who have concluded that the two versions were, in fact, the same performance. Since then, engineers have found at least a dozen examples of other performances that appear to have been pilfered and issued under Hatto’s name.

[…] Hatto’s recordings were published by her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, on a small British label called Concert Artist. The label has released more than 100 albums under Hatto’s name. Barrington-Coupe yesterday denied any wrongdoing.

[…] Barrington-Coupe said that the findings published on the Web , have started a “culture of fear” among critics in London who are afraid to stand up and defend the Hatto recordings now in dispute. “They’re being told that something is a scientific fact, and they’re no longer believing their ears,” he said.

Hatto died last year at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer. Although she was largely unknown for most of her career, she won a few champions among critics toward the end of her life. A reviewer for the Boston Globe, for example, called her “the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of.”

Her illness forced her to give up performing in public decades before she died.

From the earlier NYTimes article: A Pianist’s Recordings Draw Praise, but Were They All Hers?

Looking for scientific evidence of a hoax, Mr. Inverne then sent the Hatto and Simon recordings to Mr. Rose, a former sound engineer for the BBC. Mr. Rose said that the Liszt recordings were easy to identify as those made by Mr. Simon, but that the Nojima recording had been “manipulated” to disguise its origin.

“If all this is true,” Mr. Inverne said, “what strikes me is that this sort of piracy was made possible by technology, and later advances in technology uncovered it.”

He added: “As far as I know, the classical music world has never known a scandal like this. The art world has, but not classical music.”

Later, from the NYTimes OpEd: Shoot the Piano Player; also from Gramophone: ‘I did it for my wife’ – Joyce Hatto exclusive, William Barrington-Coupe confessespdf

So, Who’s Going To Say It First?

As Larry Lessig repeats, “Software patents — BAD.” How much pain before one of the big holders throws their weight behind this much-needed IP policy reform (remember, software patentability is a construct of the USPTO; all it takes is a piece of legislation to make it go away): MP3 Patents in Upheaval After Verdict

; also the LATimes’ Microsoft loses music patent case (pdf) and the Washington Post’s Microsoft Loses Big In MP3 Patent Suit (pdf).

From the Washington Post article:

The judgment surprised industry experts, who said they had not been following the case closely.

“Most of us thought this was going to go bye-bye,” technology analyst Rob Enderle said. He said he expected Alcatel-Lucent to approach other companies using MP3 technology and use the verdict “like a club” to collect fees.

[…] Alcatel-Lucent and its lawyers would not say whether they plan to target more companies, but Desmarais signaled that others using the audio-file technology could be vulnerable.

“For anyone who implements the standard, the same arguments would apply,” he said.

Hmmm – given that Alcatel-Lucent elected not to join the patent pool, is it possible that they’re the ones who are trying to bring software patents down? Or are they just greedy? And, in either case, isn’t that good for the cause?