What is wrong with copyright and media industry

SOPA and PIPA have been in the news a lot recently. As many have become aware, it is the wrong solution to combat internet piracy. As Paul Graham puts it, it is the tactic used by an industry in decline. (http://ycombinator.com/rfs9.html) However, this post isn't about PIPA or SOPA (you can find plenty of commentary on that elsewhere); this is about the decline of the media industries.

The media industry is not being killed by pirates; it is being killed by themselves. The world is moving fast and these old media stalwarts are either refusing to change their business models and/or are not changing fast enough to keep up with technology and society.

I am going to point to a single example of this. There are many more just like this but this one is especially poignant.

Yesterday evening, someone had posted on Reddit a link to a YouTube clip titled "Ball girl asked to catch huge bug at the Australian Open" (http://www.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/opj90/ball_girl_asked_to_catch_huge_bug_at_the/). The Reddit thread has 1200+ comments with 20K votes. The video itself was a 2 minute 49 seconds video of a ball girl chasing after a huge bug on the tennis court in the Australian Open, catching it in her hands (with a skittish look on her face as she carries it off the court). The latter half of the video was just her sheepish reaction embarrassed as the crowd gives her a round of applause. All in all, it was a pretty innocent video. In those 49 seconds, there was not a single tennis ball being hit or anything related to the Australian Open.

This morning, I tried to pull it up to show my wife and lo and behold, the YouTube clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13oF6klLmq4) returned the message "*This video is no longer available due to copyright claims by Tennis Australia*".


Really, Tennis Australia? Was this clip that important that you needed to assert your takedown powers on your copyright? Did the number of people watching the Australian Open decrease because people can watch the ball girl catching a bug on the internet? And more importantly, how much of a "loss" did this add to the figures of internet piracy that the media companies report?

The point is that, yes, Tennis Australia does own the copyright to this clip; that is not in dispute. But as a copyright holder, they also have the ability to make a judgement call on whether this is truly a copyright violation that leads to actual loss or this has no effect on their copyright. For example, if someone uploads the entire Australian Open onto YouTube, that is an actual tangible loss. But a 49 seconds clip of a ball girl has no effect on the revenue of Tennis Australia.

So going back to my original statement, how does stuff like this hurt the media companies?

1) Copyright holders need to choose their battles wisely. When copyright holders overexert their powers, it upsets their fans and pushes the hosting of these clips further into the bowels of the internet where the media companies have less influence. This same video is now found on a number of other video hosting sites that, from what I can tell, do not have a publicized DMCA compliance policy. In forcing people to turn to these unaccountable sites, they in effect grow in popularity which makes ACTUAL piracy much more difficult to combat. See below for a sampling:

Secondly, going after these low hanging fruits does nothing to combat the true piracy that have actual, tangible effects on revenue. Entire matches are available online on a number of different sites. These are the ones that they need to go after; not the 2 min clip of a girl chasing a bug. For example, the entire Australian Open 2012 is available at http://thepiratebay.org/search/Australian%20Open/0/99/0. [Sidenote: under SOPA, G+ would be shut down because of these links that I posted.] It is easy to go after these low hanging fruits and it provides them a sense of accomplishment. The person, whose job is to fight internet piracy at the media company, can add this to his report to the executive to demonstrate his value to the company and how he's doing a good job taking on the pirates, but really, in the end, he really isn't accomplishing all that much.

2) Media companies need to stay ahead of the curve. I would argue that the person responsible for the takedown of this clip has created an actual, tangible loss in terms of marketing opportunity. The person that cause the opportunity cost is not the person that uploaded the clip (who the copyright holder would label as pirate) but rather the Tennis Australia employee that initiated the takedown.

Let me explain.

Each year, the Australian Open spends millions of dollars on advertising and marketing. One of the metrics of success in its annual report is number of website visits (http://www.tennis.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/AO2011-Fact-Sheet.pdf) They trumpet the 4.69M visitors from the US to their website as a success. In other words, they are spending a great deal of money trying to attract eyeballs to the broadcast and to their website.

This "Ball Girl" clip has pretty much gone viral. A quick search on the term "Ball Girl Australian Open Bug" returns 1.14M results. Each one of these pages have a link to that YouTube clip or another video hosting site. This is a huge loss opportunity.
Let's put this in terms that the media company may understand. How much would you value others putting up 1.14M billboards, magazine ads, TV commercials, radio commercials, and others at no cost to you advertising your business? In response, would you close your shutters and turn them away because these weren't Official Ads? Put that to any media executive or marketing director and they would be salivating over their next big bonus. If an executive said to their shareholders "The internet tried to give us hundreds of millions of dollars in free advertising, but I said 'No Thanks!'", he would be fired on the spot.

Viral videos are notoriously unpredictable. There is big money to be made having a video of yours go viral. Advertisers spending millions of dollars each year actively trying to dissect and produce viral videos and turning those viewers into customers. [Take a look at the Old Spice commercials.] When you have one that lands in your lap and don't take advantage of it, that is actual, tangible loss. When one of the videos go viral, there are many opportunities to monetize it and profit from it.

For this clip, one of the Australian Open's Official Partners, Optus (http://www.optus.com.au/aboutoptus/About+Optus/Sponsorship/Sport/Tennis/Australian+Open), with the help of Yahoo! Advertising (http://au.advertising.yahoo.com/creative-gallery/watch/25164209/9461331/2/) is doing this correctly. Immediately after that "Ball Girl" video went viral, the Optus Wildcard found the girl and did an interview with her (Australian Open - The Cricket and the Ball Kid Interview). This allows people that were hooked by the clip to find out more about the girl as well as promote the Optus Wildcard branding effort. [Good job, Yahoo7! Australia Team!] It's also interesting to note that with the Optus Wildcard promotion page, they have uploaded 78 videos for a total video view of 37k with 20k of that on this one interview (http://www.youtube.com/user/optuswildcard#g/u). 54% of the viewer impressions is from this 1 clip. The other 77 videos have an average of 100 views. So if anything, taking down the clip is undermining the marketing efforts for Optus, the Official Partner of the Australian Open, and costing them their campaign.

3) Internet Piracy isn't about money; it's about convenience. This is one of the most misunderstood concepts to the media industry. Internet piracy is not about getting something free; it's about getting stuff in a format that is convenient. The success of this viral video is that it touches people in a certain way, gives someone behind the scene their 15 min of fame, and demonstrates an universal emotion. The technology of easily sharing this with friends and relatives enable this to be spread rather vastly.

If Australia Tennis had deemed this clip the sharing of this clip on an unauthorized channel to be a threat to their business, they could have put up an authorized version on their Australian Open YouTube Page (http://www.youtube.com/australianopen) and made it easy for people to share that. When people share video clips like this, they are looking for the highest quality with the lowest hassle. If they has posted a HD version of the video to their YouTube page, people would automatically start linking to that version. In addition, they would have the knock-on effect of additional exposures to their YouTube page, other videos, and their branding. Remember eyeballs=money!

Of the 683 videos uploaded to the Australian Open YouTube page, two of the top 10 videos have similar themes to the "Ball Girl" clip.
http://www.youtube.com/australianopen#p/u/7/DptKbqqO1EY - #2 most watched with 816k views - Racket flies off handle.
http://www.youtube.com/australianopen#p/u/14/QxZE_4s_OUs - #9 most watched with 173K views - Ball hits ball boy.

My point is that IF Tennis Australia had deemed that the clip is unacceptable on an unauthorized channel, they could have first, put up their own high quality video and then do a take down. They would benefit from the viral nature of the content as well as the preassembled audience.

In an ideal world, I would hope that all media companies present a convenient alternative before asserting their copyright claims.

In summary, this is just one example of numerous examples of media companies not understanding their business nor their audience. The fear of the new technologies and the changed world around them is leading them to lash out at every boogeyman internet pirate around every dark corner. In reality, a lot of these dark shadows are not the dangerous pirates out to loot and plunder but rather their own customers and audiences. As we have seen in this situation and others, the modern audience is reaching out for something new and different and the old world mentality of these media companies is preventing them from getting it. This leads to more people circumventing the technology and looking in back alley sources for their content and the rise of true pirates and the further decline of the industry.

In the same way that the media companies can attribute losses to internet piracy, they also need to factor in the collateral damage caused by their actions to themselves, there marketing efforts, and their partners. As I have pointed out above, the takedown of this one clip, that really has nothing to do with tennis, has actual and tangible effects on their revenue. I hope someone from Yahoo! Advertising Australia calculates the marketing effects and revenue impact of those 20k views and the viral video on their Optus Wildcard campaign.

It is much easier for media company executives to blame the drop in profits on internet piracy than to take responsibilities themselves.

Anyways, if you get a chance, go find that video online. It is a good watch. I would have embedded the YouTube clip in this posts, but ... well... :)

- It was a 49 second clip, not 2 minutes.

Edited for Grammar

All statements here are personal opinions and do not represent in any way the views of my employer.
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