Itís darkest Neolithic France. A cave man blows pigment through his fingers on to the cave wall and creates mankindís first piece of recorded information. Five minutes later a bloke with club wanders up, and says, ĎYou are only allowed two bison commercials between the handprintsí.
From the moment we could download a thought from organic storage, - our brains - to a back up medium - paint, ink, film, shellac, tape, nano-tech cantilevers - technology has been father to the art, and all storytelling has been an economic act of storage: first buy your ink.
Having got ink, the move from parchment to paper was a huge fall in recording costs. Paper - the broadband version of parchment - became so cheap, that for the first time in history people could afford to write rubbish. The marriage of paper and print meant the era of disposable information had arrived.
So what television is going through ainít nothing new.
So here we are in the last days of the IBA, I say IBA deliberately, as the ITC was to all intents and purposes designer cladding over an older structure. Itís the last days of the IBA because of the binary gate function of transistors. In other words, all signals from telephone to Graham Norton, are now homogenised in ones and zeros, and so too are the regulators.
The IBA existed to create a commercially funded version of the BBC. For 40 years, the length of a career, it succeeded. It succeeded because we believed that broadcasting had a social engineering duty to inform, and only then to entertain. It succeeded because there was insufficient bandwidth to support an alternative vision. It succeeded because the duopoly was the simple harmony of a dance.
Thus the difference then between the BBC and ITV was like a userís perception of the differences between Windows XP and Mac OSX - many in the micro, not much in the macro.
In that time, 1955 to 1995, the IBA proved that in a low competition environment you could ensure commercially funded public service broadcasting through the manipulation of scarce bandwidth. This was an important skill and resulted not only in a successful ITV but also Channel 4 and Channel 5.
If we ever did have the best television in the world, then the IBAís and ITCís role in this has been under acknowledged. You could argue that the foundation for multi channel TV was the ending of the pure duopoly with the arrival of Channel Four. That multi channel has not been a Mad-Max-like anarchy based solely on the whims of a dominant bully is due to the ITC.
However, it was the fundamentalist belief within the IBA that it was administering a regulatory environment, rather than a technologically driven one, that made for its greatest confusions, i.e. BSB and On. It was the IBAís inability to accept that these technologies were the arrival of broadcasting as cheap paper and the end of broadcasting as scarce parchment, combined with naÔve tinkering like Ďunbundlingí that has led to here. A present where there is no real competitor to Sky.
To be fair to you, these are ancient sins of anciens regimes, but you are living with them. That said, in the last years I have found the ITC to be a progressive and thoughtful organisation. So the question is, where from here?
You have a chance to reinvent yourself, but as what? You can gently assimilate into Ofcom, or you can become a spiky Hereward the Wake group in the face of a Norman takeover. Rogue is a vogue word at the moment, and I rather like the idea of you going underground; well try this.
Over stirring music, we see a black-leathered rider on a black Harley, roaring down backlit streets. The title comes up, ROGUE REGULATOR, starring Sarah Thane as Binary Rules, Dominic Morris as Cyber Bytes, and Robin Foster as Digits. The bike screeches to a halt outside the St James HQ of Granada, her helmet comes off and Binary Rules bursts into the inner office, and yells at its CEO, ďYo, Papa Smurf, make my day, give me more chainsaw maintenance on childrenís ITV.Ē Well maybe not.
But there is a great opportunity here, as I am sure you have realised, to be Athens within the Ofcom that is Rome.
Ofcom starts with a war as it fights the mobile phone companies on the crucial issue of termination charges. This is an issue that affects all of us more than most content issues. It will be a distracting and consuming fight.
Someone from here can naively ask, as you are not lumbered with teleco baggage, why donít we just scrap termination charges and make every thing bill and keep?
Thatís a mischievous digression, but there are real issues coming up that require thought and participation.
What are your views on Digital Rights Management? This is a debate that is sweeping the US studios and legislature. It will require that vast swathes of technology from the internet, to hard drives, to Billy Bass singing fishes incorporate, conform to US DRM protocols. It will set legal parameters on the copying and downloading of information. It will proscribe consumers, and I know it is anticipated in the EU Copyright Directive, but this is just the beginning, it will get tested, and technology, like all good viruses, mutates faster than regulation.
There are CDs in the shops , right now, that wonít play on your computer. Do you think thatís right, if I have bought the CD and thus paid the copyright fee?
Am I buying the right to play only the disc, or am I buying a copyrighted digital information stream that is conveniently stored on a CD? If I have paid the fee, shouldnít I have the right to use that digital stream on any device I like within my home?
You may think CDs are outside your remit - why? Itís digital information, is it not artificial to divide information by the distribution medium - CD, digital radio, broadband, should not the divide be based on fees, and values?
These are the training slopes for Movielink, the Studios IP broadband downloading protocol. Which will bring together point-to-point content and broadband capacity issues.
Will the signal networks, cable, satellite, and DSL phone be just deliverers of movies like DVDs in the mail, or will these networks be able to participate in their retail sale? Both sides, the studios and the networks, will want to chisel the other and a Ďrefí will be needed.
For ten years Mooreís law has wreaked havoc in the TV industry as it enabled digital compression and a total change in signal distribution economics. That era is now slowing down, but Mooreís law hasnít finished, as what it did for distribution economics it will now do to storage and signal recording.
IBM has developed a cartridge 4í by 5í that can store a terabyte, new nanotech systems can store several DVDs in a space the size of a postage stamp, with the possibility that over 10 years that will shrink to a molecule. The main battle now will be the balance between the signal storage you have at home and the signal storage you have centralised on the network.
What does TV look like when every one has access to cheap hard drives, PVRís? Advertising revenue is threatened as you spin through them on playback. It also means that Television becomes not one to many as it is now, but one to many ones. Channels as a concept wither, as TV more and more becomes a point to point activity. If you the consumer can store what you will, what value is there in libraries, what value is there in repeat channels like UK Gold?
No wonder the studios want technology that makes signal decay after it has been stored.
This debate spreads rapidly as one contemplates the nature of digital signal distribution, its storage, piracy, and the entitlement of artistes to get a fair return for their work. From here itís but a short step to have thoughts on all forms of wired and wireless transactions from VOD to M-Banking. Crack this and you will achieve cyber-enlightenment, and ITC will stand for Internet Trading Commissioner.
In a multi channel world, TV becomes a commodity - if you donít like what you are watching move to another channel, buy something else. The key to consumer protection in a commodity world is labelling. Thus the role of the EPG becomes crucial.
The EPG should tell you the calories, the fat content, the colourings and the toxins that are in any given TV programme. Donít you think there should be more than one EPG? Donít you think that Platforms should be made to allow competitive EPGs if only to force down the price of EPG access, and to ensure independence? Donít believe Platforms when they tell you itís not technically possible. Competitive EPGs, like alternative search engines, would benefit the consumer.
In Barry Coxís brave new world (new for him, five years ago you would have had to have shown him the instruments of torture to get him to confess to the future of TV that he outlined in the Guardian this week)Ö for those of you who donít know Barry, the digital czar is giving a series of lectures on the future of TV. The first was this week in Oxford and was called The Fellowship of ITV, the second is called the Two Towers, Sky and the BBC, and the third will the Return of the Regulator, arguing that the Licence Fee should be shared between Hobbits and OrcsÖ anyway, quite rightly, Barry sees TV heading off into a world of publishing economics, where there are no viewers, only info consumers.
ITV has not been good at modelling what-if scenarios, it was as if an ostrich had invented spreadsheets. I like what-if games, so what happens if we extrapolate the publishing concept? What does TV look like when it is not a broadcaster, but a variation on an Amazon.com theme? In other words you browse, choose, and for a fee download content. Is not the EPG, the labelling, even more crucial, and will you really be getting what you are paying for?
Getting what you are pay for becomes more important as the shopping channels proliferate at a phenomenal rate, and offer products that promise more than they deliver.
Like the Flabocise Mark 3 that guarantees within a week you will have the body of Cindy Crawford, I have been using it for a month, I think I am getting the breasts but nothing else seems to be working.
Do you have the resources to find these services as they duck and weave between TV channels and Internet distribution? On broadband there is no difference between TV and Internet, and once found, if they mislead do you fine them, do you shut them down? My preference, which would work better than any fine, would be a bug on the screen of an offending channel that just says ďDonít buy, they lieĒ.
The Oftel genes are important because they deal with the fundamental signal wealth of the country. This will be the heart of Ofcom. I believe that for you to be players you will need to keep raising the debate from sensibilities to peopleís pockets.
The thing you have going for you is that Oftel is the same as Ofgem. At the basic level a watt is the same as a byte. You plug in a device, a micro wave or a PVR and draw down a power stream or an info stream, and the key issue is ensuring free flow and interconnection, and in the end all watts are the same, only the quantity varies.
You know, itís in the genes of this organisation that every one and zero, every byte of that digital signal carries a different value. You know that the 1s and 0s that make up News at Ten carry a different value than the those that are a rerun of the Wooden Tops.
You deal with value not quantity; this is why you are important.
These issues are more important than the mandated trivia of exorcising ghosts from Livingís daytime schedules. An Athenian think tank does not demean itself with the distractions of paranormal programming; itís like Plato having a rant in the middle of the Republic about stale fish.
Living is only available in digital homes where there are at least 50 other channels to watch. So whatís the problem if the programme has been properly labelled? Of course sensibilities should be taken seriously, and they will be a permanent feature of regulatory life, but they become a publishing issue, not a broadcast issue.
The other issue will be the BBC. Traditionally your role has been not to throw stones at each other. But no more. Questions to be asked include; what is public service broadcasting? Do we need it? Is it a public benefit or a job creation scheme for the middle classes? Why do we let the BBC Worldwide exist and distort UK media economics? In an age of broadcasting diversity and plurality, is it not oxymoronic to spend the licence on a single entity, and most important of all, for us as a society, what are the opportunity costs of the BBC? What else could we have for that money, which might be of greater value? Should we change the BBC from British Broadcasting Corporation to a broader, less formal structure that exists to provide a British Backbone of Culture?
This is an opportunity to seize the high ground of the broadcasting debate, and you will be judged on your role in this.
UK Television was predicated on two suppliers reaping the benefits of monopoly scale. That is over. The hard thing for you will be letting your children, ITV, C4, C5, weaken or die. You must drop your role as their protector and let them go, if you are to succeed in your new role as protector of the consumer, and navigator for the whole British signal-creating tribe.
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