Thursday, February 3, 2011

On the one-hour death and resurrection of atdhe.net


Ian of the always relevant twohundredpercent—whose one-off media posts often make this blog cringe with embarrassment at its own output exclusively on the subject—already spoke well to this topic today so I won't add too much, except of course my own usual rambling take on things.

I don't want to argue shades-of-gray legal issues with regard to illegal feed farms. Whether sites like atdhe.net are strictly in line with the whichever country's copyright law or not is for the courts to decide and for sharper legal minds than mine to opine about. And I agree with Ian that the Department of Homeland's Security's decision to seize the domains of atdhe.net and rojadirecta.com was a mere gesture. All the Twitter hubbub died down as soon as everyone realized the sites were up and running again on different domains, literally in hours.

What I want to talk about specifically is iTunes and the sustainability of the television rights juggernaut that is European football.

We all know the story of what happened to the music industry in the past decade or so: an illegal market of mp3s sprang up via file sharing sites like Napster. Various courts of law were powerless to stop the trend as new, free-to-download software would always spring up to fill the gap. It was for a long time considered the end of recorded music as we know it.

Amid the carnage—and there was a lot of carnage as far as A & R's and record labels were concerned—came Apple's decision to quietly insist its ubiquitous iPod users download music for the price of 99 cents per song. At first it was widely assumed music thieves would simply laugh and keep on thieving, but the iTunes model stubbornly lived on. While not exactly the answer to the music industry's woes, iTunes did at least provide a light at the end of the tunnel for musicians wanting to earn some money from their trade, even though era of the million unit-selling,  champagne-swilling parties at the big recording label is over.

But iTunes worked because Apple already owned the biggest, most popular mp3 player in the world with iPod. In other words, it owned a closed-source delivery system for its product. Web-savvy people who love popular albums still have no reason to start paying money for what they can get for free on Limewire, but old people and people with unwieldy musical tastes like myself (try finding the choral works of Herbert Howells on file sharing software) use iTunes. We're not buying music as such but rather the convenience of not having to a) find a store/website that sells the CD and b) troll file-sharing software in the vain hope you'll find a decent recording of the Collegium Regale Te Deum. Which is good for smaller artists in need of exposure, and good for bigger artists who like to tour stadiums a lot, and bad for pretty much everyone else. It's the same model that many newspapers and magazines are hoping iPad will eventually provide for print content. Apple owns a closed-source content delivery system there as well—apps—and it seems consumers are willing to pay for them.

European football once owned (in a sense) a closed-source content delivery system via the selling of television rights. In fact, much of the bloated financial shitstorm that is modern football is grounded in the practice of forcing cable stations to out-bid one another and pay enormous sums for the right to show games. That model looked fairly intact as recently as a few years ago, when the internet was a last resort for football fans unable to get to the pub/afford cable (we all remember trolling Justin TV for a grainy Cantonese-language, five minute delayed feed of one Premier League match). Today however, there are feeds of pretty much all major European fixtures available in pretty good quality on more than one hub site. As soon as the individual feeds are cut off, new ones spring up via an ever-diversifying array of video streaming software. As Ian already mentioned, the individual site domains seized by the DHS have already relaunched. The tap can't be turned off.

This isn't an insignificant problem. Even if all the top European leagues went in on some sort of collective web hub for a market-friendly subscription fee for all-access, it could never match the revenue-generating power of television rights. Maybe the old habit of cable will die hard, but the high price of cable subscriptions means more and more soccer fans will turn to higher-quality illegal feeds to get their fix. Whether this is morally acceptable or not isn't the point; you're not going to make money by using international law to plug a million holes. We've already seen this with the music industry. The point is what happens if the web kills the value of TV rights? Hoping "technology" will somehow get up off the couch and help out Richard Scudamore make money one way or another might work, but that's an enormous gamble. What won't work, as we've seen this week, is relying on the law to make your money for you.

Photo by Johnny Vulcan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I pay 50$ canadian to get cable and dont watch anything. FOr that money I get two english sports station and a french one.
This week I get to listen to the token english guy describe EPL games saturday or the 7hAM french version show Sunderland vs Stoke. Im PAYING for the privilege of getting up at 7 to wactch F"%!$$$$$" Stoke and Sunderland try to make more than two passes in a row?
The rest of the time its poker, poker, darts, and poker. Some golf and hockey.

I got a european dish last summer (the old euro homecountry has a feed for different continents (so my folks and parents watch the morning show there at the same time as here...or it seems). So right there, I have enough soccer for the week. I also found that my receiver and dish combo can also get me other countries... so I also can access leagues game from leagues that are japanese, korean, thai, greek, russian, serbian, slovenian, french, south american and mexican leagues as well as spanish language version of MLS!! and a few more..

Needless to say, I can pretty much watch everything on a big ass TV.

Whether I need to keep paying cable for the privilege to catch the top 4-5 teams or be subjected to the technical wasteland of Stoke-Sunder. is for another time....

Even with new access to world football since I added the satellite dish, I havent really stopped consuming as much on the computer.
We spend most of our lives on it.
Read some soccer blogs, check out the goals and videos at 101 great goals or goalsarena, or check your youtube subsciprtion to Special 1 TV, TVGOLO goals of the week, AssistsOfWeek, Skill school, Crossbar Challenge, Soccer AM Stripperettes and just for the hell if you really have time to kill see whats on a live feed at Rojas...
Thats how the technical generations consume football... it doesnt stop at the TV model of receive only.
(we have a rule in the house, you dont multitask wehn watchign a game on the big TV. if you want to watch, you watch and pay attention...multitasking on the computer is more tolerable and often people split their screens just for that at work)
Right now,..Im glued to my keyboard, the living room TV far away in the house...if I want to consume football right now, i can do it in seconds on the computer. Instant gratification.
That's what my bookmarks is about.