Over The Top voices were curiously absent from tonight’s Copyright panel in Sydney this evening. The panel was convened to provide public facing consultation following responses to the Federal Governments Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper and served as a veritable who’s who of the paid Australian media landscape.
In attendance was Peter Duncan (the Australian writer/director of Australian films/TV including Children of The Revolution and Rake), outspoken Village Roadshow co-Chairman Graham Burke, Telstra’s Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs Jane Van Beelan, Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein, iiNet CEO David Buckingham, APRA’s Brett Cottle, and CHOICE head Alan Kirkland.
The audience was packed with media and technology journalists, staff of the companies represented on the panel, government staffers, and interested members of the public. The number of ‘crazies’ feared by Graham Burke were kept to a minimum.
Missing from the panel seemed to be anyone without a financial stake in the copyright issue. Issues of cultural capital, new business development growth, and consumer-focused innovation were clearly not to be a focus of this panel. No, this was set to be a conversation based around how corporations must do something to stop piracy that is affecting their bottom line.
As CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland stated during the panel, nobody is necessarily pro-piracy, but rather consumers are eager to see content priced at a reasonable and equitable price point and for it to be made widely available. Beyond Kirkland, the rest of the panel were made up of industry leaders who have a significant financial stake in maintaining the status quo. Certainly, industry leaders should have a voice. TV in Australia would be a poorer place culturally if it weren’t for providers like Foxtel. But, if Foxtel were to go away, the market would open to other, more innovative providers.
It was interesting to note that there was no representation from the Australian FTA TV broadcasters, OTT subscription services like Quickflix, or much of a look-in from academia. Also missing was the true voice of the consumer as delivered via Twitter.
Just as a video over the top service lays it’s content over established networks to deliver services like streaming movies, Twitter served as an OTT conversation to that taking place in the room. Unsurprisingly the voice of the many was angry and highly sceptical of those speaking.
Australian content consumers are angry. And justifiably so. Quite regularly they are paying more money for the same content available overseas. Also, the delay time between content airing overseas and airing locally is substantial. This follows years of Australian TV consumers being treated poorly. We all have tales of shows being taken from the schedule just episodes into a season without notice, midnight to dawn burn-offs of series, and shows taking years to be played locally… often briefly before being taken off the air just episodes into a season or dumped into unfavourable time slots.
The Internet has served as the true democratisation of consumer choice and Australian audiences are keen to exercise that democracy. The reason why TV piracy rates in Australia are so high is simply because content is now available uninterrupted, in higher quality (actual HD), and within hours of its initial screening. Viewers for the first time can now watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it.
So, while the on stage panel were defending the rights of big business to protect their IP, Twitter was awash with bitter commentary from those watching the livestream of the panel.
In an interesting move, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull quite regularly took questions and comments from VIP’s on the floor. These comments came from academics and organisations like Google who offered a strong counterpoint to the views of those on stage. It can be presumed that those on the panel likely would not have appeared had it not been stacked in the manner it was.
Of significant note were the comments of Google’s Ishtar Vij who eloquently spoke on the revenue generated through live streaming events, representing the voice of a different emerging content provider.
— Televised Revolution (@TV_Rev) September 9, 2014
At risk also is a considerable amount of cultural capital. While piracy is certainly not desirable, piracy does lead to the curation of otherwise lost or unreleased material.
Most surprising of the speakers was how well Graham Burke put forward his case before losing weight to his argument by incorrectly saying that there are no record stores in Melbourne anymore and suggesting this archaic method of shopping for music was superior. Burke also asserted that Australians are paying less for high definition content than overseas, which is blatantly incorrect. Using The Lego Movie as an example, Australians (by way of iTunes) are paying a AUS$24.99 against US$19.99. Burke did admit that the approach Village Roadshow took in delaying the release date of The Lego Movie was a mistake that the distributors will not repeat again. A bold admission.
It’s worth considering that the perception is that large media conglomerates have always been the gatekeepers of the content we consume, but they’re really relatively recent gatekeepers. TV is a relatively new medium that can still shift and evolve into other forms of TV consumption. Maybe that does mean people will be more interested in cat videos than Game of Thrones. With the current changes we are witnessing, it could well be that we simply need to push aside pre-conceived notions of what televisual entertainment is and can be. Maybe TV through YouTube is the future. Perhaps not. Whatever that future may hold, any changes to current laws need to ensure that Australia’s value system is being maintained and protected beyond the requirements of thes current large media companies.
Ultimately, what was achieved by this panel? Very little. Big media in Australia can now say that they’ve sought public consultation in an open environment. No greater understandings were achieved. As with any issue, the only way to affect any real change is to contact your local MP and stress that this is an important, vote winning/losing issue.