A few weeks ago, when the current season of The Voice had just begun there was a bit of an uproar in Jamaica because one of the two local TV stations, TVJ, bought exclusive rights to it and then refused to show it live. They showed it two hours later when they figured they would snare the largest number of viewers. What made matters worse was that those who normally watch the show on cable as part of a bundle of American programming they have paid for suddenly found their access to NBC’s broadcast of The Voice denied simply because TVJ had bought exclusive rights to the show.
Infuriated viewers took to social media and complained enough that by the second week’s broadcast TVJ had agreed to carry the show live on one of its subsidiaries. The problem was that there was some kind of technical snafu that prevented The Voice being broadcast till an hour into the show.
People who had looked forward to watching Jamaican singer Tessanne Chin wow the judges for the second week running were upset and once again took their complaints to Twitter and Facebook. TVJ management later said it was shocked by the intensity of the reactions and the vitriol expressed by viewers. In retaliation TVJ executives tried to pit cable viewers against non-cable viewers by suggesting that somehow the former (privileged fatcats) wanted to deprive the latter (downtrodden masses with no options but local TV) of the pleasure of watching The Voice.
How they figured this is beyond me. The cable viewers didn’t object to TVJ broadcasting the Voice, what they objected to was being deprived of access to the cable channel they normally watch the show on. Similarly there was a strong suggestion that those who objected to TVJ’s buying the exclusive rights to The Voice and then not showing it live were somehow encouraging theft of intellectual Property.
I found myself in a radio discussion on RJR (Radio Jamaica) with Oliver McKintosh, President and CEO of Sportsmax, Chris Dehring of the West Indies Cricket Board and Gary Allen, Managing Director of the RJR Group that owns TVJ, where there was a tendency by the corporate representatives to lecture listeners about IP rights, about respecting rightsholders, about how this was no different from stealing physical property etc etc.
I was more than a little bewildered. Had anyone suggested that TVJ steal rights to The Voice? When?? Who?
Judging by Gary Allen’s statements on radio that evening, RJR’s motives for buying exclusive rights to The Voice were largely humanitarian. They had noticed that the participation of a local singer, Tessanne Chin, was exciting a bit of interest amongst Jamaicans and felt called upon to respond. As Allen elaborated:
When we recognized that this programme is one which is going to expose the talent of one of our artistes and that it is creating so much interest, our primary thing was, at that stage–not everybody has access to cable, we have a responsibility and a mission as broadcaster to try and bring content that is of interest to the widest possible audience. And therefore we were also very interested in exposing this beyond the cable audience. People who have cable very often forget that there are tens of thousands of people in Jamaica who do not have that access and to whom we should extend our services.
Aren’t Jamaicans lucky to have such a magnanimous TV station, one willing to spend millions of dollars buying exclusive rights just so their viewers can have access to Prime Time American TV programming without depending on cable? Conversely how quick TVJ’s top honchos were to throw us cable viewers under the bus! How little we matter to them. Tsk tsk tsk. Perhaps they’re not aware that the number of Jamaicans watching cable is as high as 70% according to some cable providers.
When it was President and CEO of Sportsmax Oliver MckIntosh’s turn to speak, he said he was a ‘bit disappointed’ with the reactions of those who had protested on social media and promptly went on to talk of piracy of content. Chris Dehring interrupted, objecting to the use of the term piracy because “it makes it sound almost romantic”, and insisted that it–whatever ‘it’ was– be called stealing.
“Just because there are a number of cars sitting on the wharf for 9, 10 months, you can’t just jump into a car and drive it off…If everyone’s allowed to steal which is essentially what is being proposed here…” he continued.
How analog they all sound I thought, futilely trying to point out that TVJ’s cardinal sin had been acquiring exclusive rights to a popular show and then not showing it live, particularly when it was the kind of reality show that demanded audience participation in the form of texting, voting and tweeting. It’s called interactivity and it has revolutionized the way content is presented, consumed and distributed globally. Those who want to profit from making content available, from providing access to it, cannot afford to overlook the huge transformation sweeping the creative industries.
I remembered all this as I listened to David Pakman (@Pakman), the keynote speaker at JSTOR’s Ithaka Sustainable Scholarship Conference in New York City recently. Pakman co-founded the Apple Music Group in 1995, co-founded MyPlay (pioneer of digital music locker), and was COO/CEO of eMusic for five years.
Pakman talked of the profound technological shifts that have taken place, the move from analog to digital for instance, and the tendency nowadays toward something he called ‘mass customization’. It had all started with the internet and its effects on the way music was consumed–in essence the fallout of ‘debundled’ content being made available. “The story of music is the story of unbundling,” said Pakman as he moved into explanatory mode.
The CD or music album was a bundle; you had no choice but to buy 10 songs bundled together for the one or two hits among them. “Then singles came along and ruined the bundle,” he said. The sale of albums had shrunk not because of piracy but because of debundling. Traditional incumbents try to bundle and the legacy costs of businesses are predicated on bundling.
Bundling is more expensive, it artificially raises overall costs. Information wants to be distributed friction free–and what flows best? Atomic units–which are more user-friendly.
The world is moving towards debundled content, journals too will be unbundled, with articles not papers, being the units of sale, Pakman said, making the link to the field of scholarly publishing that had brought together his audience of journal editors, librarians and publishers.
The Internet is a bi-directional medium–the user is also a producer, he explained, bringing up the interactivity I mentioned earlier. New aggregators are the social platforms not the publishers, and content discovery has shifted to social media where those with Twitter and Facebook clout have become the new ‘influencers’.
The latest American shows are fully aware of these new trends and have adapted to them, sensitive to the bi-directionality or interactivity mentioned earlier. The last episode of The Voice even incorporated Twitter into its voting process.
You can buy the exclusive rights to such shows but you can’t do that and treat them as if they’re the kind of traditional uni-directional, analog content that’s on its way out without raising the ire of your viewers. The sooner management of all the top media entities here realize this the better it’ll be for all concerned.
Oh, here’s a good one on the national Tessanne Chin mania by Dionne Jackson Miller. It’s a hoot. Enjoy!
Ten Reasons We’re All Rooting For Tessanne Chin