Speeches and articles

Reflections on UK Digital Economy Bill

I am going to talk about the UK Digital Britain report and the resulting UK Digital Economy Bill. That’s a real ‘abandon hope, rush for Starbucks’ killer sentence. Don’t panic! As Stephen Leacock almost said, “It's called ‘digital economy’ because it has nothing to do with either digital or economy.” So let’s start with a tour of UK media and how its protagonists, and regulators, are coping with the digital plague, and see if we have found a ‘cure’. But you don’t know me well enough yet to risk irony, so the problem is how do I do this without descending into a warm bath of English parochialism that’s comforting for me but excluding for you?

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Pirate: thief or information freedom fighter? Regulation and copyright in a post broadcast world.

"We are living in an age of transition."
This sentence should kill off any anticipation, as it signals an onset of stupefying clichés. Anyone who starts a talk with "We are living in an age of transition" should not be listened to.

I have heard broadcasters say "we are living in an age of transition" as an incantation against digital evil, implying that this technical transition is just temporary, as if familiar normality will return next Thursday. Thus echoing the man whose Bronze Age sword, having been cleft in two by a bloke with an iron one, says, "Gosh, Einstein was right, "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal."

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Games: two levels short of a medium

The BBC has over £3 billion a year of guaranteed income but is short of money. ITV solved this by theft, but it's all right, it's not really theft, as they didn't intend to steal, they just wanted to make good programmes.

So my career advice is to take up mugging: if you are caught, say you have no intention of stealing but are 'executive producers, doing live action role-playing'. Any self-respecting policeman would say 'On your way sonny, it's only taking an audiences' cash under false pretences and warrants a clip round the ear.' It's not serious like the heinous virtual crimes committed on Grand Theft Auto'.

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Reality: coming soon to a games platform near you

The games industry is facing an opportunity to be more than entertainment, and more than education. It has the opportunity to be a medium. Games are currently not a medium. A medium makes you laugh, cry, aroused, gives knowledge, induces epiphany, and creates excitement. When you can do all of these you are a medium. Film can do this, television can do this, radio can do this, print can do this, and even comics, graphic novels and Manga can do this, but can games?

I see no reason why games shouldn’t be a major medium that can convey all moods and emotions, and why games shouldn't be the equal of movies, not just in terms of image quality, or box office takings but in terms of art and emotional catharsis.

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Broadband speech

Broadband, like the word freedom, is essentially indefinable. Dictionaries take paragraphs of similes to corral the word freedom. Just when you had it nailed, along comes ‘freedom fries’. Being an American phrase you might think ‘freedom fries’ was an affectionate name for a Texas electric chair, but as you know it means chips free from all Gallic connotations involving acquiescent camembert consuming simians.

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No widget no wave

The BBC began transmitting digital radio in September 1995; 9 years later about 400,000 digital radios have been sold in a market of 24 million homes. So has digital radio failed or succeeded?

It’s an interesting question, because as radio moves from analogue to digital, so the economics of the industry change. Digital technology lowers costs, barriers to entry fall, more frequencies become available, it’s cheaper to start new radio stations, and each new service nibbles away at the audience. Advertising money gets more thinly spread across more stations, and some of the commercial stations you know will thrive and some famous ones will fail.

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BBC speech

I love the BBC; my father worked for the BBC, it fed me, clothed me, some of my fondest childhood memories are of sitting quietly in the corner of an OB truck bathing in the adrenalin of a live television broadcast.

My father, Aubrey Singer, ran Features Group in the BBC. Out of that came Alan Yentob's Arena, Horizon, Tomorrow's World, Civilization, and Ascent of Man. Because I was a dyslexic, school-phobic child, these programmes were my education. It's a pity the BBC never did an arithmetic version of Civilization, as I might have understood Telewest's debts better.

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KPMG speech

Let’s start with some reflections on time and technology.

The fundamental truth about new technology is that you can live without it, you can always live without it. You are living without Play Station 5, the nascent quantum computing, bandwidth guzzling games platform that is so fast you have already played it. You are living without 4G telephones, and hydrogen-powered cars. For business, technology is the evolutionary engine that drives competitive edge, but, like evolution, technological adoption is always slower than one thinks and always blind to where it’s going.

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Mulch Versus Marrows

"We are living in an age of transition". This sentence should kill anticipation in any room of active minds, as it telegraphs an onset of stupefying clichés. Anyone who starts a talk with "We are living in an age of transition" should not be listened to.

Television executives use the phrase to avert digital evil - implying that transition will end next July; echoing the man whose Bronze Age sword, having been cleft in two by an angry bloke with an iron one, says "Gosh, Einstein was right, "Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal."

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The Games Industry: Changing Times – Reaching New Audiences

The curse of the establishment is haunting the games business, not least because they know that ‘resistance is futile’. They know that when the Daily Mail eventually screams it’s ‘a scandal that the Government are failing to provide every classroom with ‘Gore Fest 3’, where you learn French with a chain saw, it will be game over, and the death of gaming cool.

You don’t think we will get there? Well, technology is just a falling cost line and everything happens when you hit the right price. At the right price games become establishment and mainstream.

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Music and content

MP3 music files started to proliferate in 1995 and the first player that you could put in your pocket was the RIO, which shipped out in1998. It held a handful of songs, and it was obvious that, after Moore’s Law, digital compression, abundant cheap bandwidth, this was the fourth horseman of the digital apocalypse, in that it was the harbinger of cheap universal storage.

You could see that given time, sufficient capacity, and access to enough bandwidth, this was the end of physical ownership of content, the end of HMV, Virgin Megastores, and the end of the industrial strength margins, and the corporate affluence that had been created by the CD.

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It’s darkest Neolithic France. A cave man blows pigment through his fingers on to the cave wall and creates mankind’s first piece of recorded information. Five minutes later a bloke with a club wanders up, and says, ‘You are only allowed two bison commercials between the handprints’.

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.

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Guardian article

Traditional five channel analogue television is a bit like being stranded with eight favourite records, the bible and the works of William Shakespeare. Eventually the records are so familiar they all sound like ‘Agadoo’, the Shakespeare has made you the world’s leading expert on regicide, and your fifth reading of the bible has created a yen for Zen.

At this point - depending on your prejudice - one craves rescue by the tramp steamer or the luxury liner that is multi channel television, but is it to via Freeview, Sky, or Cable?

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Public Service Broadcasting: is there life without the Fee?

Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Stephen Carter, has an acid criticism of those who have run television up to now. Patrician concern with cultural arguments about programme content, he argues, has so dominated their thinking that any consideration of the way content is distributed has been relegated as some grubby, downstream engineering issue. Yet the experience of Sky in the past decade, and digital switch-over in the next, demonstrates that increasingly the economics and technologies of distribution will drive content decisions. It is a tough but fair critique.

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