Cameron Crawford looks at how Mobile TV and IPTV have changed the commercial approach taken by content providers and distributors to production.
As technology evolves, the formats from which customers can obtain content become less restrictive. Traditionally separate enterprises, TV networks and telecommunications companies are now competing for market share in order to satisfy the market's demand for easy and cheap access to films, channels and information.
Mobile TV is essentially the access to television content delivered via mobile telephones and other hand-held devices, featuring innovations that give consumers a wider range of choice on how to view the product of their choice. In addition to linear television channels, video-on-demand allows the viewers to decide when they watch a programme by accessing a content library while podcasts mean that the content can be downloaded overnight, stored on the handset and accessed at any time, irrespective of network connection.
The advent of 3G networks has sped up the whole process. Movies studios, record labels and gaming industries have noticed the enthusiastic public uptake and are creating sustainable new revenue models: the potential profits are large, which has caused strategic alliances between telecommunications companies and device manufacturers on one side and content providers on the other in a manner reminiscent of the AOL-Time Warner merger of 2000.
2007 was heralded as the breakthrough year for mobile TV. It was last year that Mobile TV took off in Europe and Australasia, with North America following suit to a lesser extent.
Endemol, traditionally a content creator at the forefront of interactive and multimedia technology, has sold tens of millions of minutes of Big Brother footage and plans to launch channels specifically made for mobile TV with focus on quizzes and soap operas. Now it is anticipated that the Middle East, along with Latin America, Africa and India will follow the trend over the coming 12 months.
Part of the reason for this success is that consumers are used to the TV format and prefer it to the lower-budget internet content. Furthermore, the mobility meets the needs of a society on the move; commuting and waiting will be more bearable with a favourite show or highlights of a day's match to watch.
From a legal perspective, there are a few new issues to consider from both the content provision and distribution sides of the equation. For the content providers, there are two chief issues: first is retaining ownership and control over the content in relation to their distributors and second, unsurprisingly, is their perennial nemesis, piracy.
With respect to owning the material they create, the content providers have to be careful that they ensure that all versions of the content they provide are theirs even if distributors are the ones that create it.
For example, each model of mobile phone will require a particular piece of content to be encoded so the phone can use it, plus the content itself may be edited and reformatted to make it more suitable for mobile distribution.
Unless the content provider specifically ensures that it owns these versions in contracts there is a risk that the company creating the version could claim ownership or at the least, prevent the content provider from using them following termination of their agreement.
The distributor also has to protect itself, chiefly from claims against third parties who either claim that they, in fact, own the content or that their rights are infringed by it, such as where someone appears in footage without signing a waiver or where issues of defamation arise. The content provider should be asked to warrant ownership of the content in the contract and indemnify the distributor against losses arising from potential third-party claims.
Similar legal considerations apply to IPTV, which is on the rise in countries with strong broadband internet infrastructure. IPTV is essentially the system by which TV content is sent to consumers using the internet. One of the most far-reaching consequences of its arrival has been to allow telecommunications companies to gain significant market share in the world of content providing integrated packaged offerings of IPTV, VoIP and internet access often referred to as 'triple play' services (with mobile services these are called 'quadruple play').
This basically provides a one-stop shop for consumers for their communications and entertainment needs when previously such organisations were confined to communications alone. IPTV is distinguished from 'internet TV' as it can only be accessed by its registered customers whereas internet TV is open to all users of the applicable sites subject to territorial restriction.
Compared to traditional TV channels, IP networks allow for the delivery of familiar linear channel format of the traditional television channel plus significantly more content and functionality.
Usually linked to normal TV sets using the set-top box, IPTV features added functionality such as video-on-demand, recording to hard drive and USB capability to further blur the edges that previously distinguished the internet and television.
In a typical TV or satellite network, the content constantly flows to each customer, and they select the desired content, meaning that the selection is restricted to the options that the operators can fit into the telecom system flowing into the home.
In the case of the IP network, content remains in the network, and only the content selected by the customer is sent to the customer's home. This makes more bandwidth available, and the consumer's choice is less limited by system capacity.
Another benefit is that a more accurate reading of viewership can be gathered cheaply and efficiently but it could be at the cost of their privacy being compromised.
This trend, therefore, has the industry in a spin. Whereas previously the adage 'content is king' was a universally-accept tourism, meaning that the customer would come to the channel or site providing the best contact, the market is becoming ever more driven by the update of hardware.
If a mobile phone network has a particularly strong market share, it holds a strong bargaining position, rather than the movie studio or producer, who will be more than keen to monetise content by selling to the widest distribution networks available.
The IPTV system that has biggest market share will be able to pick and choose its channel partners on increasingly favourable terms.
One fear for those who enjoy original programming is that this content produced by channels such as the BBC and HBO, will become scarcer as the demand for low-cost, bite-size offerings for mobile devices drives down the investment in script and production values. Rather than content being king, the new adage for the industry may be 'quantity not quality'.
For more info on The Rights Lawyers, go to www.therightslawyers.com.