Interview: Founder of the Centre for Content Promotion: “Net neutrality is an idealistic and important ideal to have.”

Isa Seow, is the founder of the Centre for Content Promotion and a senior academic at the Republic Polytechnic school of technology and the arts, Singapore

Isa Seow, is the founder of the Centre for Content Promotion and a senior academic at the Republic Polytechnic school of technology and the arts, Singapore and is taking part in a ‘Keynote Super Session’ called “Can Service Providers both Protect Revenue and Provide the Content and Services Users Demand.” This will take place at the close of Day Two of the Broadband Asia conference, taking place on the 29th-30th April 2014 at the Suntec, Singapore.

Here he discusses the challenges of Internet providers getting involved in content, the fate of net neutrality and defends the use of DRM.

What are the primary concerns you believe ISPs are facing in terms of creating revenue from delivering content?

Good quality, high-value content requires large investment, and telcos and ISPs may or may not have attempted to go fully into such investments.

ISPs could theoretically create their own content, but the reality is that telcos and ISPSs are not content people. Companies in the entertainment field spend millions thinking about, developing and distributing excellent content, but then that is their core business.

The reality is ISPs need to deliver interesting and entertaining content but this is not cheap and sometimes is at odds with delivering bandwidth. With Hollywood or high-value content, the business model is different and there are well established methods and business models.

How to sell online is less clear because of piracy and other reasons. For example: the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) and Content Scramble System (CSS) models provided Hollywood with a third-party beneficiary right – the Internet, however, does not.

The platforms are also shifting. IPTV? Mobile? iPads? There needs to be a large volume of releases so it’s worthwhile for studios to license content to ISPs.

The words I hear from technology people sometimes are, “isn’t content free?” – to which the response is, “Well, no! Is anything free?

I have attended conferences in China, India, Singapore and elsewhere – all over Asia where you’ll find misunderstanding regarding content. Good content that’s considered high-value, and time sensitive is seldom free. Even with free-to-air TV, content is being paid for. A device manufacturer who just manufactures a new mobile TV screen in China would think FTA TV should be free for my audiences.

From the artist’s point of view, the artiste has the right to put things out for free if they want, but also to charge when they wish also. There is a perception that musicians can make music cheaply these days (e.g. “you don’t have to buy expensive equipment to sing a song on a guitar.” – but what about the guy who spent USD$100 million investing in a film? There are various types of content and we cannot lump them all up and decide they are all free.

The business model is through selling per-copy, per-device, per-telco/territory, per-view or rarely, for advertising eye balls/clicks.

What makes it more complicated is the type of content. All forms of content have different business models. Music, is not only sold per copy, it is now based on subscription online (like a buffet) or royalty based. Games are mostly freemium. So in delivering content, ISPs have many challenges in understanding the various forms of content.

Coming to the ISP problem, the challenge is investing in high value content and having the business geared towards content.  I believe one complication is that ISPs are the ones that provide the bandwidth – the pipes.

If, or when, they start to deliver content, this complicates some of the current regulatory protections they enjoy as infrastructure/internet providers. Can they continue to be protected from the legal responsibilities that come with delivering content?

Broadband AsiaThe Broadband Asia conference is taking place on the 29th-30th April 2014 at the Suntec, Singapore. Click here to download a brochure.

Is net neutrality an idealistic but ultimately impractical concept?

For the reasons above, it would be a concern to think that ISPs could decide between the importance of certain types of traffic, as that could move into pretty subjective areas. If I deliver the pipes and also the content, I would most naturally like my own content better, actions that customers and regulators might question.

Net neutrality is an idealistic and important ideal to have.  The long-term complications could be worse say if ISPs start to charge according to the type of content you download from the Internet, or if countries start to charge based on how much copyrighted materials are passing through borders, for balance of trade payments. People will need understanding of why such and such content cost more. What bandwidth costs what? It could get complicated.

What would you say is the biggest change that technology has made over the last five years to delivering content?

The biggest change is from Internet and social media and how it’s been accepted by the young and talented. The Internet is still making waves and changing how content is delivered. It’s really a disruptive technology. For content owners, the Internet brings the possibility of delivering content directly to consumers, or across borders, or via social networks.

Is DRM a blunt and ineffective tool? Is providing better value to consumers not a better approach?

The fact is Digital Rights Management (DRM) is everywhere. It enables different business models such as ‘watch once’, ‘download to watch’, and ‘streaming’. All these models deploy DRM so it has a role despite its reputation.

It enables different business models without any hassle to the consumer. Content would be more expensive without necessary rights data and security provided by DRM. Sure it can be hacked but for most normal people it’s a simple system which works.

Content people have a choice in how they release their content – as free, charged, per-copy, per-device etc. That is the reality. So DRM helps content owners customise their offerings. This is not so much different from telcos and ISPs customising their packages for consumers.

Nobody should force musicians to release their music for free, as an example. Similarly major film companies do not wish to give it free. They have the right to sell it the way they want and DRM helps with whatever business model they want to choose.

 What are you most looking forward to regarding the Broadband Asia conference?

I am looking forward to meeting important people from telcos and ISPs – the technologists and TV-technology folks dealing with change in the industry. Content is a major factor all technologists have to manage today.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s