Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ad free CBC? Why not shift money to creators?

In response to articles discussing an advertisement free CBC, I had the following to say:

When I was asked to elaborate, I realized I need to give context as most people in the content industry do not think the same way as I do as a system administrators with decades of experience in the technology industry.

The layered approach to communications technology

4134   COMMISSIONER DENTON: Mr. McOrmond, interesting brief. I see it is informed by an internet idea of the world.
4135   So in your preferred solution then there would be essentially some kind of bandwidth to the house, whether wired or wireless, it would be part of a municipal infrastructure such as sewage or water, and applications would float on top of that or through it.
4136   Now, what happens to the carrier in that instance?
4137   MR. McORMOND: I am essentially suggesting that we no long would have carriers in that instance. They would be replaced by a utility and a free market.
4138   COMMISSIONER DENTON: Right. So you realize this is formally heretical and they will be onto you for this?

The above is from an intervention I made in front of the CRTC in 2009.  I'm not informed by an Interned idea of the world, but informed by the OSI model upon which most digital communications infrastructure is designed.  This model emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was already in-place when I was learning about digital networking in the 1980's before I or most people heard of the Internet.

The core idea is quite simple:
Its goal is the interoperability of diverse communication systems with standard protocols. The model partitions a communication system into abstraction layers. The original version of the model defined seven layers.

A layer serves the layer above it and is served by the layer below it. For example, a layer that provides error-free communications across a network provides the path needed by applications above it, while it calls the next lower layer to send and receive packets that comprise the contents of that path. Two instances at the same layer are visualized as connected by a horizontal connection in that layer.

When we are talking about the layers that together offer wired Internet services, I separate the layers tied to geography (layers 1 and 2) from layers above that.  I consider all digital communications (whether it is ISP services providing IPv4 or IPv6 public routing, IPTV, cable or telephone) to be "over the top" of that service.

This is quite different than how the converged phone and BDU industries define it which is that only competitors to their own vertically integrated services are "over the top".  While I am using a neutral definition that is based on the underlying technology, they are using a business definition which privileges existing vertically integrated companies over the interests of a competitive marketplace.

This creates very different language between people from the Information Technology industries and people who are part of the converged telecom/BDU industries.

How does this layering impact the content industries?

When I look at the content industries I also see a number of layers.  Like my separation between physical networking and services that are built "over the top" I separate industries involved with the creation of content from those who are involved in the communication or distribution of that content between creators and audiences.

In the most recent "Canadian Content in a Digital World" consultations the type of content discussed most often was television ("small screen" format video content, contrasted with "big screen" format movies).

When some people think of television they bundle together everything from the first ideas that a scriptwriter has all the way to the wiring (aerial, cable/satellite/IPTV receiver) that plugs into the television.  Most stop there and at least don't consider the television manufacturers to be part of the same industry.

When I think of television I see a series of layers with interoperable interfaces between them.

  • Content generation:  There are a large number of creators involved in the production of scripted (and even unscripted) shows. While there are different layers within, I feel comfortable as an audience member grouping those layers together even if the different layers are critical within the industry.
  • Content distribution:  There are many interoperable and competing methods, with the following being only a few examples:
    • physical media distribution, such as DVDs, through online and physical retailers
    • online content libraries, which includes flat-fee subscription services like Netflix or online retailers like Google Play or Amazon Video (once launched in Canada to compliment their existing physical DVD distribution business)
    • Broadcasting and BDUs, which provide pre-programmed streams of content (Note: I strongly reject claims that online content libraries are more similar to broadcasters than they are physical media retailers)
  • Content access: there are a wide variety of access technologies, and an increasing number of these are networked within the home.  One content access device (receiver) may be a different home networked device than the screens used to view and the speakers used to hear, and we need vendor neutral interoperability between these devices.

In my primary submission to the DigiCanCon consultation I focused on how the government managed (I suggest mismanaged) convergence.  The transition could have been a transition from purpose-built analog networks where what was on top of the network was fixed to one that could be modeled after the OSI networking model with interoperability between services built on top of each other.

I believe the greatest threat to the content industries is ties to specific brands or technologies on other layers of the communications stack.  If, as an example, a screenwriter believed that their future is tied to that of "broadcasting" then they will try to force any type of content distribution -- even disruptive technologies that will likely replace broadcasting for most audiences of scripted programming -- to act as if they were the same "broadcasting".

This policy is of great benefit to the "broadcasting" industry, who would then have less to fear from competitors hobbled by a regulatory environment that is mismatched for these competitors.  It is, however, extremely harmful to the interests of the content industries as well as their audiences.  There are many features of some of these disruptive technologies which would benefit creators that they won't be able to harness if they incorrectly identify suppliers of these technologies as opponents.

The Innovator's Dilemma

Much of the dynamic we can see between the content industry, broadcast industry, and Canadian audiences can be explained by Clayton Christensen's 1997 textbook The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.

Over-simplifying: companies who were successful in one market have a hard time providing services based on disruptive innovation that is likely to replace the older market.

This can be seen with broadcasters, and those that see themselves as dependent on broadcasters, claiming that Netflix and other "foreign" companies are extracting money out of Canada.  Not discussed in this attempt to wave the Canadian flag is the fact that there are no domestic competitors because the incumbent content distributors are themselves "broadcasters" who see this disruptive innovation (online content libraries) as a threat. They have been unwilling to offer that service, and have done everything they can to block competitors.  The closest that will remain at the end of the month is CraveTV which isn't competitive with first-run content libraries like Netflix, most likely because it is owned by a parent company that doesn't want to disrupt its existing broadcasting and BDU services.

My own experience trying to watch Supergirl in Canada is an example of what happens.  As the "broadcast" industry was tied to specific geographic regions, much of the content licensing models have been as well.  Canada is carved out and one entity, in this case (and all too often) a broadcaster (Showcase, owned by Corus Entertainment), is granted an exclusive license for the region of Canada.  That broadcaster then doesn't want online content libraries to compete with broadcasting so doesn't advertise (or sometimes allow to be offered) legal alternatives to broadcasting, nor provide services to paying customers who have opted for existing legal alternatives.

I was essentially forced by Showcase to resort to using a VPN service to bypass region restrictions and watch Supergirl from a US source.  While I paid money to Showcase for a season pass, Showcase hasn't been willing to update the content library offered through Google Play with new episodes.

I had the same problem with other shows including Game of Thrones and BBC Class which Bell apparently would prefer I infringe copyright than find out about legal alternatives to broadcasting.

Personally, I "cut the chord" (unsubscribed from cable service) years ago, and don't want to go back any more than I want to give up indoor plumbing or other modern conveniences.

An Ad free CBC?

CBC is a large corporation that receives a large amount of public money for all the layers that exist within it.   I believe taxpayers should be looking more closely at each layer and ensure that it is taxpayers and the politicians that represent us that more closely direct the specifics we want we are willing to pay for:

  • Canadian content creation:  I want to see more of this.  This means not only am I willing to have my tax money going towards content creation, but that I want the results to be available to me.  I don't use the services of broadcasting (OTA or via a BDU), so content that is only made available via broadcasting isn't made available to me.  As I wrote in my submission, public funding should be conditioned on wide public access.  This means being neutral on the wide variety of content distribution mechanisms and services.
  • Domestic and foreign radio broadcasting:  This is the cheaper of the two types of broadcasting, both for transmission and reception.  This is an important way for Canadians domestically (especially in rural and remote areas), as well as abroad to get news from Canada.  Terrestrial audio radio is accessible in locations which can't be served by the Internet.
  • Television broadcasting: I only believe in subsidizing television broadcasting in rural and remote areas not able to be adequately served by commercial broadcasters.

A proposal to add $318million more to CBC's budget to remove advertising from broadcasting doesn't sound appealing to me.  If we were talking about $318million more for Canadian content creation that would be accessible to me as an audience (public money conditioned on being neutral as far as content distribution systems) then I would be in favor.

Even if we were talking about transferring budgets away from television broadcasting to subsidize emerging content distribution as a policy tool to reduce copyright infringement, I would be in favor.

I don't see anything of value to me of making broadcast television ad-free.  It might make that broadcaster more competitive with online services that are paid for by subscribers rather than advertisers, but I think that is a very inappropriate abuse of public funding.  The last thing I want is my tax money funding a broadcaster which would think of online content libraries as a "competitor" (or some extremists claim "industrial dumper") and be denying me access to content which I partially funded.

A more future-facing proposal


I believe we should be creating structural separation between the major layers in the CBC.  Specifically, content creation would be structurally separated from any type of content distribution.

As part of that structural separation some of the money currently paid to the content distribution layer (the broadcaster) should be shifted to content creation.  I do not believe it is advertising that conflict with CBC's public interest mandate, but the conflict of interest that arises whenever content creation and content distribution are thought of as a bundle.

In markets where the broadcasting arm is seen as being in competition with commercial broadcasters, we really need to finally ask ourselves if a publicly funded content distribution service should be in that market at all.

And yes, it wouldn't make sense to call the Canadian Content Creation Corporation (CCCC?) the CBC any longer...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Notes from watching Supergirl via VPN

It is only 2 more sleeps (as the kids would say) until the Monday episode of Supergirl launches #DCWeek, the 4-series crossover event between Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow.

I have been looking forward to this since I first heard about the possibility last spring.

Unfortunately, as anyone who reads my blog knows, I've been having trouble watching Supergirl in Canada even though this content is very Canadian, being filmed in Vancouver.

The other 3 shows are on the CTV GO app which, while not being ideal, at least works. For Supergirl I tried to watch on the Showcase website, then gave up and paid for a season pass via Google Play. It is Saturday and last Monday's episode of Supergirl has still not been posted to Google Play by Showcase.

(Nov 29 update: Nov 14'th episode still last posted, so 2 weeks behind).

There is no way I'm going to trust that both episodes will be available on Monday, and that Showcase's screwup won't continue the rest of the season. Typical with my interactions with Canada's broadcast industry, I feel duped.

I've sent tweets to @showcasedotca , and while the person in charge of that account acknowledged the problem it hasn't been resolved yet.

I sent a messages to feedback@showcase.ca, and while I received an automated reply from "Showcase Viewer Relations" I have received nothing else.

I've now taken the next step to ensuring I can view the launch of the crossover event Monday without a problem.

Setting up a VPN to watch via the US source

While I use VPNs as part of my work every day (I manage servers spread across the country, and need to communicate between them securely), this is the first time I have been driven to use a VPN to bypass region restrictions.  If anyone in the broadcast industry has a problem with me using a VPN for this purpose they can send their complaints to feedback@showcase.ca to see if they get any better response than I have.

Some quick searching found many review sites for services that use VPNs for the purposes of bypassing region restrictions.  The one I decided on was ExpressVPN, and paid $99.95US for a year subscription.  They indicate that if I cancel within 30 days I get a refund, so like Netflix I have a month to decide if this is worth keeping.

My first attempt to use ExpressVPN was with the Android App on my ASUS Flip Chromebook.

I ended up learning about something new about the Android support in new Chromebooks.  It seems that it is only the Android container, and not the device as a whole, that the VPN software works with.  This meant that the version of Chrome running within ChromeOS would show my normal IP address, while I would get the US based IP address if I used the Android version of Chrome.

With this setup going to The CW's Supergirl site didn't work as I would have hoped. Detecting that I was on an Android device (not a Chromebook) it sent me to Google Play to download the Android CW App. Google Play indicated that the app wasn't available in my country.

I installed the ExpressVPN client on my Linux desktop in the basement. I was able to go to the CW Supergirl site and watch last Monday's episode.

This isn't where I want to watch television, so isn't something I would be wanting to do often.  I could set up the VPN via my gateway rather than on a desktop, which would allow me to watch via my Chromebook, but then enabling/disabling the VPN all the time would be inconvenient. Any use of VPNs slows down network speed, and I wouldn't want our normal network usage to be diminished because of a few broken content delivery services.

If I keep the VPN software I might have the router send specific subnets via the VPN (CW, not sure about Netflix).  I just checked the BBC iPlayer and it works well with this VPN service -- all it took for me to finally decide to take a look at bypassing region blocking was to finally get so upset with dealing with the Canadian broadcast industry and Showcase finally pushed me over that edge.

The CW experience.

It's a broadcaster, so I'm putting it in that context.  I really prefer first-run subscription content libraries like Netflix, and wish there were competitors to this in Canada for anything not available on Netflix.   Second-run subscription content libraries like CraveTV are fine for watching old shows, but are not a substitute for first-run services.

The CW's website is a massive improvement over anything I've seen from the Canadian broadcaster-run websites.

The show has commercials, and like when watching broadcasting they are at the same video quality and sound volume as the show.  None of this jarring mess of uneven video quality and massive audio volume jumps that you can see on the Showcase.ca website.

The commercials even have text below them (outside of the video) clarifying who the advertiser is, and have links directly to the advertisers website.   This must be amazing for US based advertisers where audiences are more likely to want to thank them for sponsoring the show, rather than in Canada where you feel like contacting them to let them know the broadcaster has duped them.

I wrote in the earlier article how Supergirl was the only series I'm watching where I saw advertisements.  I'm not sure if advertisers are better treated by Showcase which tries to display commercials and does it poorly, or CTV where the CTV GO app doesn't bother to show advertisements (just interrupts the stream and takes a few moment for buffering to catch up again).

I'd rather pay to not have advertisements, but bad experience with paying Showcase to access Supergirl has reminded me that paying money is no guarantee you'll get service from a Canadian broadcaster.  I'm getting good service so far from Space for my season subscription to BBC Class, even though they'd rather I didn't pay them that way.

I've now paid for the ExpressVPN service, money I would have preferred was sent to a content creator.  I might as well make use of it for watching the rest of the CW series.  I don't know if I'll keep the service, but I at least know I'll be able to enjoy the crossover event next week no matter what the Canadian broadcasters do.

February 18 update:

The problem hasn't improved. After complaints about ongoing delays for episodes, I received a suggestion from the person managing their twitter feed to send more email.

This is entirely unreasonable. Either the people they have hired to make the episodes available should have been fired months ago for incompetence, or this is deliberate behavior on the part of the company. Showcase is likely presuming that if they constantly screw up legal alternatives that fans will be driven to watch via Showcase (either via cable of via their website).

If your child stole money, would you reward them with candy or would you believe they needed to be reprimanded and/or punished? The reality is that this type of dishonest behavior by broadcasters drives people to VPN services as well as to copyright infringement. Showcase should be being treated by lawmakers and the law similar to how ISOhunt was during the C-32/C-11 hearings, as a commercial contributory infringer.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Minister Joly wrong to want to bring tech companies "into the system".

I own Samsung and ViewSonic televisions,  Philips and Panasonic DVD players, and mobile devices from ASUS, Huawei and LG.   I don't think I know anyone who only uses Canadian designed and manufactured technology to watch scripted programming.  I never heard a Minister of Canadian Heritage claiming that these technology companies should be brought "into the system", confusing these technologies as being part of the broadcast system and thus should be regulated as part of it.

Why does Minister Joly apparently believe that other technology products and services such as Netflix, Google (YouTube, and Play Movies and TV), or Amazon Video should be brought into the system?  These technology companies are no more part of the system than the hardware manufacturers.

When discussing how Canadian Content Creators harmed when Netflix claimed to be a "broadcaster" I discussed the differences between content libraries and broadcasters/BDUs.  There is a need to regulate companies using Canadian airwaves such as broadcasters, as well as those putting wired above and below public and private property (something that would otherwise be trespass) such as BDUs and telecommunications companies.

None of these regulatory reasons apply to technology companies offering content libraries or technologies used to access content libraries.  Online libraries are not in any way part of the "broadcast" system, and should be regulated as providers of technology products and services as is the case for other technology products and services.

This outmoded way of thinking of "online" content distribution as being related to "broadcasting" is harming both Canadian creators and Canadian audiences.


Barriers to Canadian Content creators reaching audiences.

On Wednesday I wrote about the case of writer and director Christopher White who is using Amazon Prime video to distribute a movie.

Amazon is already a content distributor in Canada, but only when the movie or TV series is stored on DVD and Blue Ray disks.  Their Amazon Video service is not currently offered in Canada, most likely because of regulatory barriers and other red-tape when dealing with Canadian governments -- most likely policy under the jurisdiction of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Why is Minister Joly threatening to force Amazon Video to be "part of the system" if it enters Canada, while Amazon's existing distribution of physical disks to Canadians doesn't concern her?  The Minister should be trying to reduce barriers to Canadian content creators, not erect new ones!  It's not her job to "build a wall".


Barriers to Canadian audiences accessing Canadian Content

While some narrowly concern themselves with the headquarters of the company financing the production, or the nationality of some tiny number of writers, I consider the amazing creativity filmed and and produced in Canada to be Canadian content.  I've been a big fan of the Stargate and related franchises (including Sanctuary), Battlestar Gallactica, and recently all the DC comic Superhero series -- all primarily out of Vancouver!

I have been looking forward to next week's DC Superheros Crossover Event since it was announced last spring.

Because of the type of thinking that Minister Joly is demonstrating, the event may be ruined for me as I may not be able to see the first episode of the event before I watch later episodes.

All 4 shows are financed by The CW network.  Unfortunately because of broadcast-era regional licensing these shows are not made available directly to Canadians in a single modern first-run content subscription library (such as Netflix), but on distribution channels controlled by "Canadian" broadcasters.

Three of the four series are exclusively licensed in Canada by CTV, and Supergirl is licensed by Showcase.

While Bell owns both CTV and CraveTV, new episodes are not made available on CraveTV as that service is operated as a second-run service and isn't attempting to compete with first-run content library services like Netflix.  This outdated attitude more than anything else is likely why Shomi failed as Canadians want a first-run streaming content library which makes new episodes of series available as soon as they have been published.

I've been having a hard time watching Supergirl via Showcase -- first their website was so poor that I was having a hard time enjoying the show.  Then I gave up and paid money via Google Play for the season 2 pass.  It is now Friday, and Monday's episode is still not been released by Showcase for Canadian viewers.

I may, if I'm very lucky (unlikely) get a response from Showcase to my various only questions (twitter and email), and have Mondays episode available in time. It is far more likely I will be forced to get from some other source (VPN to access US source, or some "other" less authorized source).

I'm left wondering why I have to deal with Showcase, CTV or Bell at all?  I'm not interested in going back to broadcasting or BDU services to access scripted programming any more than I'm interested in giving up indoor plumbing and other modern conveniences.   There is no reason for the government to be supporting regional exclusive licensing in a world where technology makes most of these restrictions counterproductive (See Bell's inducement of copyright infringement).

Audiences should be able to directly access these shows from the copyright holders, not from some irrelevant and outdated country-based intermediary.

(Update:  Notes from watching Supergirl via VPN)

Core cultural policy changes

While I have written a series of articles during the DigiCanCon consultations, if there is one thing I can recommend to the Minister of Heritage and the Department of Canadian Heritage is that they need to separate the creation, distribution and access to Canadian content from each other.  Having the entity that distributes the content be "Canadian" is no longer any more relevant than the brand of television people are using in their homes.  Thinking that entities which are carrying out activities entirely unrelated to broadcasting should be brought "into the system" is facing backwards into the past and rejecting the possibility of supporting Canadian content into the future.

  • Canadian Content funding should be to creators, not intermediaries
  • Each different content distribution mechanism should be regulated separately.  Online content libraries are no more part of the "broadcast" system than retail DVD distribution is.  These retailers do not not use our "spectrum" and they do not use "right of way" privileges to put wires above and below public and private property.
  • Barriers for creators reaching audiences should be removed.  If this means actively soliciting non-Canadian content-distribution companies to offer their services to Canadian creators and audiences, then that should be quickly pursued.
  • While broadcasting is a different market, legal content libraries directly compete with copyright infringing content libraries.  As a measure to reduce copyright infringement, the Canadian government should be supporting (financially and otherwise) legal content libraries.  For those who believe that infringement is a substitute for payment, they should support the government creating as many new payment options as possible.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Heritage Minister and Department must reduce barriers between creators and audiences

While many participants in the "Canadian Content in a Digital World" consultations are focused on funding issues, real support is needed from the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Department of Canadian Heritage to reduce barriers that exist between Canadian creators and their potential audiences.

While some people would prefer we all sit down and watched broadcast television like we did in the old days, the industry is moving forward in ways I discussed earlier in Canadian Content Creators harmed when Netflix claimed to be a "broadcaster". I noted how people are moving to online content libraries away from broadcasting. While this is a major improvement over broadcasting, there are still barriers between creators and their potential audiences.

While I can hope the Minister and Department will help, I also ask that they do no further harm. A number of policies that have been proposed previously, as well as some brought up during the consultations, put up more barriers rather than reducing them.

On Monday I had a short twitter exchange with Christopher White, writer and director of I Fall Down (2013), that is typical of the types of problems I see.

Lets pause here for a moment before we go down the rabbit hole.

This is a great-news story that this movie has been made available to a wide audience, without costing the creators anything for the additional publishing, and without needing to ask someone else's permission.  At this level of the conversation there really are no barriers, and I hope more creators will follow Mr. White in trying to make their content easily available.

I have heard great things about Amazon Prime video as far as ease of use and device compatibility. On the link Mr. White provided is a large list of devices which the video can be accessed with. While it didn't list all my devices, it is available on enough that I could access.

Well.. If only I didn't live in Canada that is.

While Amazon Video is available in the US, UK, Germany, Austria, India (soon) and Japan, it isn't available in Canada.

Except, of course, when you search for "Amazon Prime video Canada" you will get a good list of VPN services that will give you a US based Internet address to then access the service as if you lived in the United States.

This is another level of inconvenience which some users are willing to put up with, although because of pressure primarily from exclusive regional distributors (that's primarily Bell for Canadians) there has been a lot of attempts to block VPNs from Canadians trying to access services like US Netflix.

I don't for a moment believe this is a technical limitation, as Amazon adding the number of users that Canada represents to their service wouldn't be noticed as far as the increased load is concerned.

All I can believe is that there are regulatory barriers or other red-tape with dealing with Canadian governments, most likely policy under the jurisdiction of the Department of Canadian Heritage, that is in the way of this service being launched in Canada. Amazon has a Canadian subsidiary that provides many of the other retail and product shipping services that US Amazon does, but Amazon Prime for Canadians is currently a fixed fee service for faster shipping (I am a member, and much of what I buy is DVD video content).

Unfortunately, instead of working with Amazon to eradicate any barriers to allowing Canadians to easily purchase access to Mr. White's movie, DigiCanCon conversations have been in the opposite direction. There are those who want to put up barriers to anything they don't deem "Canadian" enough on the distribution side, ignoring the fact that the existing "Canadian" content distribution companies (largely owned by BDUs) have shown no interest in entering or competing in this marketplace.  The "Canadian" companies want to drive people backward to Cable, not offer services people (creators and their fans) want.

These people are fine using computers produced by companies not headquartered in Canada, and a host of other products and services with our Free Trade partners, and yet they expect content distribution platforms to be treated special.

Department of Heritage officials suggested that making the use of VPNs to cross-boarder shop for legal content should be made illegal.   This is the opposite to the types of policies Canadians need. Canada should be enacting and enforcing laws to ensure that online video distribution services are not allowed to region block any more than was previously done with DVDs.  Using VPNs to access US content delivery services should be made redundant by ensuring the same content is available equally on these services in both countries.

Back to Mr. White.  I mentioned that Amazon's video service isn't available in Canada, and asked if he considered Google Movies and TV (A service I now regularly use) as an alternative which does work in Canada:

Just as Mr. White has to choose between different services to make his movie available on, there is a limit to the number of devices someone can own in their home to access content.   While I own many devices, none of them are compatible with iTunes.

While most video distribution services aren't owned by a hardware manufacturer, iTunes is and they have a tendency to try to tie the use of one of their products or services to another of their own products and services.  This means that the number of compatible devices is the lowest of any of the popular content distribution systems.

This should be my own business which devices I own, as long as I have one of the popular ones supported by the vast majority of services.  I do own a number of popular devices, and there are few video services that don't work on at least one of the devices I own, with services like YouTube and Netflix working on the most.

Since Apple is a popular brand within the arts community in North America, you sometimes get the surprised answer when they meet someone who isn't an Apple customer.

I am someone active in technology law. I see software as the rules that a computer obeys, much like laws are the rules that humans obey. I believe that for the general public to understand software and software authors they need to make analogies between to policy and policy makers. It is not the field of engineering that is the closest example for understanding the impact of software on society, but political science.

For more, please read Lawrence Lessig's "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace."

I tried to shortcut this conversation on twitter by suggesting that saying "All I have to do is become an Apple customer" to access content comparable to saying "All I have to do is join CPC".

To which Mr. White replied:

And further down the rabbit hole we go :-)

To understand how to apply the Betamax example to technology used to access content distribution services we need to discuss the computer marketplace more closely.

Betamax was a proprietary format offered only by Sony, while the VHS technology was widely licensed to multiple vendors to create VHS recording, editing and playback devices.  Standard market forces applied, and it should be obvious when a single company tries to compete with a multi-vendor economy that the economy will win.

With computer technology the situation is more complex as there are a number of different markets involved.

The desktop computer market has stayed relatively stagnant between the late 1990's and now. Depending on how you count (and there are wide discrepancies) and if you broadly look over the entire period, you find about 70% run on Microsoft Windows (of a variety of flavors), about 10-15% on MacOS (a variety of flavors, older versions incompatible with new), and the remaining being "other" that included things like IBM's OS/2 in the 1990's and later some small inroads with a variety of Linux and Unix desktops.

In the Internet server space things are quite different.  What started as mostly the domain of Unix saw some growth of Microsoft Windows on the server, but the largest force became Linux which took over the vast majority of Unix and left Microsoft as a distant second rounded to around 10% with only a small fraction of "other".  As Microsoft is a big player in the server space with Microsoft Azure cloud services, this month they joined the Linux Foundation.

In the mobile space Apple took the early lead, but like Sony they didn't license their technology. Google built an operating system based on the Linux kernel called Android which it released fully Open Source.   While Google still leads the development of their version of Android, any company (or group of individuals) is able to build their own compatible version of Android, build their own applications and distribute without anyone's permission, as well as build any devices.

This is what Amazon did with the Amazon Fire product line, which is a stack built on Android that includes tablets and Amazon's own Appstore for Android that competes with Google Play's App store.

Set-top devices have taken a similar route as mobile, where Linux dominates and other environments are fighting for small percentages.  There is also a growing number of manufacturers building Netbooks that run ChromeOS.  While these devices are replacing desktops and laptops for some people, they fit more into the mobile space than the desktop/laptop space.

While some people still use desktops and laptops to access content, most will use mobile platforms to control streaming to things like a Chromecast (or a growing variety of similar devices), or set-top devices, connected to their television.

Applying the Betamax example it is clear that Apple is similar to Sony as Apple doesn't license their technology to third parties. The most openly licensed platforms are the Linux-based marketplaces.  While there are some niche markets where Apple is still the most visible, the global marketshare has Android above 80% with Apple's iOS retaining about 13%.  As this market matures many people are assuming that Apple's iOS will go the way of Betamax.

So, as far as Betamax vs VHS is concerned Mr. White got which-is-which backwards.

This is a level of detail of computer history, current marketplace analysis, and always uncertain marketplace predictions that Canadian content creators should never be expected to think about.  They should never be forced to choose between which audiences will be able to access their content, or have the risk of making the wrong choices between competing technologies/businesses/etc.

Can't all content delivery platforms be available on all devices?

We didn't pursue the conversation this far on Monday evening, but it is the next logical question.  Why does it matter what brand of device I purchased when accessing a content delivery platform?  It didn't matter what brand of TV I bought to watch TV, or what brand of radio.  What makes digital content delivery so different?

For this you need to know the history behind "encrypted media".

With the digital transition on the (some wished distant) horizon in the late 1980s and early 1990's the larger content industry players went to the larger technology companies and asked if they could do some technical thing to digitally encoded content such that it could be accessed by audiences who paid for it, but that it couldn't be copied.

Anyone with adequate technical knowledge knows this isn't possible, as a computer being able to access something means it is making copies in memory and other places -- accessing and making copies are the same thing, and if the computer owner decided to save a copy this was a legal and not a technical issue.

Unfortunately a few technology companies with ulterior motives offered what they convinced the content industries was an answer to their question. Two of the three most visible are familiar names: Apple, Macrovision and Sony.

What they proposed is that content would be encrypted such that you needed a decryption key to access the content, and then the key would be embedded within hardware and software where the manufacturer rather than the device owner was in control.  This was seen as a powerful business model by Apple and Sony who would not be selling general purpose computers which obeyed the commands of their owners, but "selling" devices that obeyed the manufacturers commands. (See:  Another meaning for DRM: Dishonest Relationship Misinformation) There is considerable benefit to the vendors to be able to do this, restricting features that would normally already exist and have the ability to sell those features back to the "owners". (See also: Perspectives on computer security and encryption from Apple, the FBI and I : Apple)

While there has yet to be any evidence that "encrypted media" reduces infringement, and considerable anecdotal evidence that it increases infringement, the proposal worked.  Many non-technical people don't even recognize that what the content industry likes to call "copy control" is actually "computer control" (IE: a question of whether the vendor or owner controls the computer).

Some people believe that content alone can make decisions, and don't understand how encrypted media impacts the computer control question. Digitally encoded content cannot make decisions any more than a paperback book can come alive and chase the reader around the room (I call this the "Harry Potter" understanding of encrypted media).

Many governments around the world have passed laws to legally protect what they call "technological measures", allowing Apple and Sony to point fingers at copyright holders and the law whenever someone complains about anti-owner restrictions on devices.   At the moment most copyright holders demand "encrypted media" be used for all content distribution services, forcing this on all content delivery platforms as well as all the devices that are legally allowed to access those services.

It is this encryption, and the requirement that the correct decryption keys be embedded in the device (hardware or software), that ties specific content delivery platforms to specific brands of devices. These are not technical limitations, but business model and legal limitations.   Nearly all audio and video these services distribute are in well understood common audio and video file formats which all devices can understand.

If not for this encryption, and the harmful laws that seemingly protect it, third party applications could be authored to make every popular content delivery platform compatible with every popular device.  It would only be the obscure platforms or obscure devices where authoring applications would be up to the device manufacturer or content delivery platform provider.

As a software author, my ability make a living is dependent on computer owners being able to make their own software choices in order for them to be able to choose my software.  If hardware manufacturers, rather than owners, make those choices then my livelihood is put at risk -- to a greater extent than any imaginable amount of copyright infringement could.  While this is obvious to me, the same risk exists for cultural creators as powerful hardware manufacturers and content delivery platforms may also dictate things to them (what their content can be about, how much they can charge, what audiences they are allowed to reach).

If you are concerned by these things, including believing that all content delivery platforms should work on all devices, you might do some of the things I have done including:

  • I spent more than a decade starting from the summer of 2001 until the passage of Bill C-11 actively engaged in the Copyright revision process to ensure that politicians, other policy makers, and fellow creators know about policies threatening technology property rights
  • I boycott the products and services of some of the most visible companies that sparked this problem, including Apple and Sony. Macrovision keeps changing their name to hide, likely because they are controversial even within the content industry.  This was no change for me when it comes to Apple which I had already been boycotting for other political and legal conflicts, but it was the end of my being a Sony customer.

I recognize my earlier analogy between Apple and a specific political party isn't a good one.  I've met many MPs in person, largely because of this area of policy, and they work together and have far more in common than the public political theater would suggest.  I believe MPs sitting in the House of Common across all political parties have far more political views in common than I have with Apple.

All of this is a legal and political controversy that Canadian content creators should not need to be aware of.  The Minister and Department of Canadian Heritage should be aware, and should be looking at all these issues to (wherever possible) reduce barriers to creators maximizing their potential audiences.

If any Liberal MPs are reading this, the policy change to avoid the "encrypted media" problem is to tie anti-circumvention legislation to actual infringement, as well as only protecting "use controls" (as discussed in the WIPO treaties) and not "access controls".

This was the Liberal party position during the C-32/C-11 hearings.

If implemented correctly it would allow Canadian App developers to author compatibility applications, which along with laws to protect us from inappropriate region controls would go a long way to solving critical barriers Canadian content creators have in reaching Canadian and foreign audiences.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Is there a form of "colour blindness" when it comes to electoral reform?

I've written a number of articles on this site on what I call "Electoral Modernization" because I consider First Past the Post to be vastly inappropriate for modern times.  While there are a number of different criteria for success of a modern voting system, FPTP doesn't meet any of them. In PR doesn't necessarily "make every vote count" I discussed the two major types of voters I've observed: those who vote for individuals to represent them and those who vote for parties to represent them.

I continuously bump up against people who have something akin to a "colour blindness" when it comes to electoral reform.  Lets use the RBC colour model in an analogy of voting system features (what some want to call voting outcomes, but that is a bit presumptuous).
  • Lets assign how well the voting system grants seats for people in proportion to their support in the population the colour "Red"
  • Lets assign how well the voting system grants seats for parties in proportion to their support in the population the colour "Blue"
  • And for this analogy lets ignore "Green" for now, as I don't have a third thing for this analogy :-)

Black is what you get when you don't shine any lite at all, and that would be a voting system that does't work well for either electing the right people or the right parties in proportion to that support.

White is what you get when you shine all colours brightly, representing a voting system that works well for both electing the right people as well as the right parties in proportion to that support.

The colour "Red" would represent only people support and "Blue" would represent only party support.

Lets look at some of the core issues these different types of voters see.

For people who support parties, the largest problem they see is that the percentage of support that voters gave to those parties isn't adequately represented in the seats assigned in the parliament.  Any system that solves that problem, including a system that counts percentages across the entire geography that the body governs (entire province, entire country) and assigns seats to political parties to fill (open or closed party lists), works great for them.

The people that are focused on the individual candidates tend to be less partisan, and with that they no longer believe there is only one right answer for ballot questions.   They support one person the most, but think two others are OK, but then there is the 3 remaining that they think are horrible options.  For them the problem is vote splitting between the 3 that they think are worthy to be elected, and thus worthy to get their vote.  They don't want votes split such that one of the horrible options wins with minimal voter support -- something they often see under the current system.

Any system that only allows them to vote for one option with a single X will be a failure for them, and they will not believe that the person who wins will have an adequate proportion of the support of the electorate in order to have won.  For them a ranked ballot is required in order to demonstrate that support, and any other system will be seen as a failure.

When these people use the phrase "winner take all" they are talking about the single X where the person and/or party that "wins" the ballot wins the entire thing.  When they say "Make every vote count" they mean making the vote transferable to other choices so that it will count and not be split to allow candidates with low voter support to win.

For them, switching the ballot from having one "X" on a line that has both a persons name and a party name, to a system that has two "X"s where the party name and person name are separate questions isn't an improvement at all.  It was the movement of one question with an unclear answer to having two questions with two unclear answers, where the second question is often not considered very important to them.  This is how they see MMP, as yet another "winner takes all" system that doesn't "make every vote count".

The problem is that we can't have the debate about a "best" voting system as there are far too many people active in the debate who only see the colour "Blue" (support for political parties).   I see the full spectrum of colour and even though "Blue" isn't the issue that concerns me, I still acknowledge it.  I'm trying to support a system which would have all the colours represented.   

I keep being told, however, that the only colour that exists is "Blue" and that I'm just crazy for talking about this "Red" thing that I must have made up.  I'm told that nobody sees this "Red" thing, so stop talking about it. Sometimes I'm told this quite aggressively, and with quite a bit of anger.

Our current vote counting system is First Past The Post which is like "Black", meaning supports everyone equally poorly.   

The most popular replacement for FPTP in Canada appears to be Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) which is a light-blue,   It's not what some call a "pure proportional" system where all seats are assigned based on party lists, but where only 30% would be party lists and 70% of the seats would be allocated the same way they are now.   There is no "Blue" in this system at all, and thus this system is not deserving of being claimed to "make every vote count" as only those who are colour-blind to only see blue believe that every vote is blue.

The simplest of the systems to fix the problems for those who aren't partisan and are voting for people is to introduce a ranked ballot to the existing system.  Everything would stay the same except that instead of a single "X" you would move to ranking people (First choice, second choice -- leaving those you don't support blank).  There are mathematical problems when you only elect one person per district where all the votes that didn't go to the single winning person were "wasted" in that they couldn't help to elect other people who had popular support.

The larger problem for those of us who are not colour blind is to notice that while a single-member ranked ballot (often called Alternate Vote) is quite red, there is no blue in it for those who think and/or vote differently.  

The solution to the math as well as the desire to not be colour blind is to mix ranked ballots with multi-member districts to create a proportional representation system that both recognizes less partisan voters focused on the individuals despite any party affiliations with the fact that partisans want to see a parliament that has percentages of party affiliated parliamentarians more closely related to how the parties were supported by voters.

This brings us to Single Transferable Vote (STV) , the only system that I've been made aware of so far that takes into consideration the interests both of voters who vote for people and voters who vote for parties.

But, I'm told from the colour blind who can only see "Blue", it is parties that form government and we want to elect the government?

Implementing that change would take far more change that only the voting system, as that is not how the Westminster system works.  We, the voters, vote people to become parliamentarians and it is those parliamentarians that then vote in the government.  In a functioning Westminster system, and sometimes I wonder if Canada still qualifies, a government can change without there being a general election because the people we voted to represent us changed configuration in some way.   A minority government could be replaced with a coalition government, or a minority government could become a majority government (or the other way around) if enough people crossed the floor.

I believe it is important for people thinking about vote counting systems to put those systems into the context of the actual body the voting system will be used to elect.

Nobody has told me what would happen if an MP that was appointed to a seat based on a party list wanted to cross the floor to become a member of another party. Would that be allowed? If not, then are we not creating two different classes of MPs which would have major implications across all of parliamentary procedures? How much of Marleau and Montpetit will have to be revised to handle these second-class MPs?  Will critical features of the Westminster system have to be changed to disallow any floor crossing or reconfigurations of the HoC without an election?  What type of change will require a general election: the resigning of any party leader, or only the leader of the governing party?  Will by-elections still be allowed if that might change the percentages of seats allocated to parties?  Have proponents of party-list systems given this any thought to any of these issues?

Will we have a referendum on each individual change separately, or only on those arbitrarily decided by special interest groups and partisans are worthy of being (allowed to be) scrutinized?

It should not be surprising that STV avoids all of these complex and as of yet unknown issues.

While the size of districts change for multi-member districts to support the PR aspect of STV, all MPs would be equal in the same way they are now and thus this form of proportional representation would not require rethinking any other aspect of how government would work. It wouldn't have the potential to throw us into a constitutional crisis. The only change will have been to have fixed a problem where the elected candidates don't necessarily have a high percentage of support from voters, nor the resulting body reflecting the support people have for candidates nominated by political parties.

Quick ways to contribute during final week of #DigiCanCon consultation

The deadline to participate in the Canadian content in the digital world consultation is this Friday, Nov 25, 2016 (See end of post). While you may not have time to publish your own ideas, you should still take the time to voice your support for ideas you agree with.

As a new media supporter who "cut the chord" (well, unsubscribed from Cable TV -- the cabling is still all over the house ;-) a few years back I have a pro-Internet perspective. This is true regardless of the type of creativity we are talking about, and while most of my submissions focus on scripted television (as much of the other submissions did), the ideas apply equally regardless of the type of digitally stored and communicated content.

As a software author and fan of the creativity of others I want Canadian creators to be well paid for their contributions, but don't believe that subsidizing old-media intermediaries is the way to do it.

I have made a number of submissions to the consultation since it was launched in September.    What I'm hoping you can do today is click on one or more of the links below to my submissions and, if you agree with them, vote them up.

Subscribing to the consultation site is easy. Where it says "sign In | Register", you can do so using your existing Facebook or Twitter account.  You don't need to remember yet another password to interact with this consultation site. There are only a few extra things you need to fill in to register the first time, and it only takes a few moments.

So please register (or sign in again, if you have already been there) and take a look at the following ideas. 

Ideas from Russel McOrmond

Other ideas I voted up

I only voted up a few ideas as most of the ideas seem to be from old-media folks who want to increase taxes and/or levies on neutral communications technology to subsidize the content industry.  There is also a lot of protectionism talk (IE: only allowing Canadians to work on Canadian projects), which is counterproductive if we want our talent to earn a living in the larger global marketplace.  Protectionism is incompatible with expanding to global markets, and the bulk of what I saw on the site were impractical or counterproductive ideas.

If I missed any that are worthy of being voted up, please let me know in a comment.

Seems there was a mistaken tweet this morning from @CdnHeritage suggesting that Wednesday was the final day for submissions.

That tweet was deleted:

An older tweet confirms this Friday.

Canadian Content Creators harmed when Netflix claimed to be a "broadcaster"

A few people have posted a similar message with the #DigiCanCon hashtag.

(Barbara Worthy is a writer, performer and producer primarily for CBC. Heather Knox is a Toronto based actor.)

While their intention might have been to add some money to a funding source, ideas within this tweet threaten funding for Canadian creators as well as threaten their creativity in other ways.

Funding issues

I discussed a number of the funding issues in an earlier article on making sense of the Netflix, ISP, ICT DigiCanCon tax. That was a summary of some of the most visible proposals, and a suggestion that funding through general revenue is the least risky to the interests of content creators. The posting didn't put these proposals it in the larger context of other funding programs as Michael Geist did in The Billion Dollar Question: How to Pay for Melanie Joly’s Digital Cancon Plans.

This context is critical.  While Heather, Barbara and others want to add some money to the millions involved in the Canadian Media Fund, what their campaign will likely do is put at risk the billions of dollars of support that the cultural industries already receive from Canadian taxpayers. The more the cultural industries want to extract money from communications infrastructure used for far more than communicating cultural works, or tax services that make content easier to legally access, the more likely the new generation of online activists will start to highlight, scrutinize and target all subsidies to the cultural industries.

This is a very risky scenario for the cultural industry, especially if any of the larger players in the ICT industry feel threatened or are lobbied into action by their customers.  I once gave my technology property rights talk at a technology conference. After the talk someone who worked at Intel came up to me and said that I shouldn't be concerned about the content industry trying to influence features in or having control over communications technology.  He said that if the content industry were able to change policy in ways that didn't benefit Intel that they would purchase them: purchase the major studios and record labels, and ensure that these industries continued to promote ideas that were to Intel's benefit.   This of course didn't reduce my concern as I believe citizens and not third parties (device manufacturers or content industry) should be in control of the technology that intermediates more and more of our lives.  It was an important reminder of the relative size of some of the companies in the ICT industry compared to the content industry.

Rather than increasing cost through levies or taxes, we should be subsidizing services like Netflix as a measure to reduce copyright infringement. While broadcasting is a very different market, lawful content libraries like Netflix exist in the same space as unauthorized content libraries. The more we can drive Canadians to non-infringing content libraries like Netflix, the less infringement will happen in Canada. Moving Canadians away from infringing sources of content, sometimes the only content library source for specific content, represents a far more important source of funding for Canadian creators than anything that can be extracted via a levy on Netflix.

Spectrum of Canadian content freedom.

While the ideas in those tweets put funding at risk, they also cause risk to creators beyond funding.

To understand this you need to picture a line which can represent the spectrum of Canadian content freedom.

By spectrum I am referring to a classification in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points, from one end being absolute control and the other end being content freedom.  I am not speaking of a set of transmission frequencies.

To avoid any confusion, freedom is a question of liberty and not price: content freedom is about removing barriers to audiences accessing the content that they want while continuing to ensure creators get compensated.

From the controlled end of the spectrum

  • One extreme is when an individual or entity unilaterally decides what content people must watch at any given time.
  • One step towards freedom from this is when audiences are allowed to opt not not listen or watch.
  • One further step towards freedom from this is when audiences have more than one stream of content to choose between.  Even though what is on the stream is still fully programmed by someone else, the ability to choose between streams allowed for some minimal content freedom.

This is the world of broadcasting.  What is on each stream is programmed by someone, but there are choices of streams.  I grew up in a smaller town in an area not serviced by cable television where there were a handful of radio stations and 4 over-the-air television stations.  Those 4 television stations (A French and English CBC affiliate, a CTV affiliate, and TV Ontario) were the fully programmed video streams that we could watch.

What makes something broadcasting is not whether sound, video, or even text data is communicated "by radio waves or other means of telecommunication for reception by the public" (Broadcast Act) but the fact that this communication is programmed.  The broadcast act regulations are intended to be targeted at the programmers, to ensure among other things that these programmers weren't unduly filtering or dictating what content Canadian audiences are able to enjoy.

As these streams were fully programmed they delivered what the programmers wanted people to see, not necessarily what Canadian audiences wanted to see.

One obvious thing missing was that Canadians wanted to hear and view some of our own music and stories told by fellow Canadians.  It was cheaper for the programmers at the broadcasters, especially for television, to license Canadian rights to US shows than to license (often fully finance if there weren't additional markets) Canadian content.
  • To bring Canada one step further on the content freedom spectrum, Canada introduced Canadian content quota requirements.
While some may feel content quota system exists to serve content producers, the policy can primarily be justified as a mechanism to better enable Canadians to access the content they want and not have the programmers at a broadcaster dictate what they can and cannot enjoy.  I believe we need to recognize the high value of Canadian content to Canadians, and recognize that we do not need to force Canadians to view or listen Canadian content. We only need to regulate intermediaries which might otherwise not be offering Canadians access to content created by fellow Canadians.

The date you first came across cable television depended on where you lived in Canada.  As early as the 1950's there was experimentation with the reception and redistribution of distant television stations. At this point there weren't many Canadian stations, so it was US stations that were being redistributed to Canadians.

While this retransmission was originally an instance of copyright infringement, this activity was eventually legalized and what the CRTC now calls Broadcast Distribution Undertakings (BDU) became a legitimate and regulated industry.

While there were now more channels to choose from, we still needed to strongly regulate the BDUs.
  • To bring Canada further towards content freedom, BDUs are actively regulated to ensure that their influence over the choice and placement of channels didn't negatively impact the rights of Canadians.
As one small but critically important example, local Canadian stations within a geographic region must exist in the basic cable package and must be conveniently located within the channel lineup (with Analog BDUs that was channel 13 and below).

An additional aspect of content freedom is for content to be available on "reception" (access) devices chosen by the audiences.   Unfortunately the BDU industry was allowed by the CRTC to take a major step backwards with the digital transition.  With analog cable there were vendor-neutral standards used to communicate channels, allowing audiences to buy televisions of their favorite brand and they could receive analog cable channels.  The CRTC mismanaged the digital transition in many ways, and one was they allowed the BDUs to move from that vendor neutrality to a system where only specific technology brands -- often only supplied by the BDU -- can be used to receive digital BDU retransmissions. This is an error I hope the Canadian government will quickly correct to benefit those still using BDU services.

There are also growing concerns about media concentration, with BDUs owning most of the Canadian television stations (as well as other media).  Whether we will advance along the spectrum of Canadian content freedom, or retreat towards more centralized control, is a matter of active public policy debate. This debate, rather than narrow and ephemeral funding issues, should be at the heart of the Canadian Content in a digital world consultations.

From the freedom end of the spectrum

Lets look at this line from the other end for a bit.

  • Imagine a utility which offered audiences a library of all audio and video content ever recorded, easily searchable to quickly find anything someone would want, and that was accessible at any time, location, and on any reception device of the audience's choosing.  The creators of this content are all compensated appropriately for their creativity through a variety of mechanisms that ensure that the means to pay is never a barrier to access, and there is no longer any incentive to infringe copyright as there is no possibility that infringement could be easier than accessing the content library.

Services like Netflix and Google (YouTube, Google Play Movies and TV, etc) are by far not this utopia. They are, however, much closer to this end of the spectrum than they are to the fully programmed end of the spectrum.

  • Netflix offers subscribers, for a reasonable fixed monthly fee, access to any content in its catalog to view at a time of the audiences choosing.  There are limits on what devices can be used, but it is far less restrictive than nearly any other (legal) service which offers access to content still under copyright. For content which Netflix funds, or where the copyright holder allows, it is entered into the catalog on release date.

While Netflix does not program the content (meaning, doesn't decide what content and at what time it is communicated to audiences), and thus broadcast-style regulation is entirely inappropriate for a service that has little in common with a broadcaster, there is still a need to apply regulation.

Netflix has choices it makes about what content is available in its catalog, and for how long. This is often a complex negotiation with content creators (for the production of new content) or copyright holders (for the licensing of existing content).  Sometimes (some suggest most often) it is the creators and copyright holders which are denying licensing to Netflix for some reason, and sometimes it is Netflix deciding to not bother to attempt to license a specific title. In any case, these negotiations should be monitored by governments.  Parties which are through their actions reducing Canadian's ability to access content through content catalog services should be regulated.

One problem area is exclusive regional licensing.  Content is licensed exclusively for a region, and then only offered through the distribution channels controlled by that licensee.  One of the problem cases can be seen when a broadcaster or BDU licenses content and then denies access to that content other than through a broadcaster (specifically, not offering via any legal content library service similar to Netflix, as well as blocking Netflix from being able to license).

The broadcasting industry and the content library services are different markets, and trying to force audiences back to broadcasting (backwards along the content freedom spectrum) is an inappropriate abuse of exclusive licenses.  Like a BDU denying access to a local channel, or a broadcaster denying access to Canadian content through their channel, other company policies which restrict Canadians access to the content of their choice should not be tolerated.

An important thing to note is that while Netflix is no utopia, I suspect adequate monitoring would reveal than any lack of Canadian content accessible through content libraries is more likely to be the anti-competitive efforts of Canadian broadcasters and BDUs than it is any choice on the part of content library services like Netflix.  Even when it comes to the Netflix catalog it is the actions of Canadian broadcasters and BDUs that require the regulation.

  • A few step away from freedom are the second-run content catalog services run by Canadian BDUs such as CraveTV and Shomi.  The catalog is smaller than Netflix, the service is available on far fewer devices, and is second-run in that content is first made available via other media (such as programmed broadcast television) before entering the catalog. (See: CraveTV not competitive with Netflix, or even DVD's)
While second-run streaming services have an important place in the market, just as second-run movie theaters do, there is a conflict of interest when these services are run by broadcasters or BDUs. Granting access to older episodes of series, but denying access to new episodes, appears to be an attempt to drive people back to cable to watch the newer episodes.  When a BDU has an exclusive license to first-run content in Canada, they have that disincentive to actually offering access to the content through their own streaming service.

Unfortunately, the reality is that this business practice ends up driving people to copyright infringement which exists in the same space as lawful content catalogs, not to broadcasters or BDUs which represent a quite different market.

Wwhen it comes to issues like copyright, the broadcasters and BDUs try to (ab)use the content industry as pawns in their desire to stop people from moving closer to the content freedom end of the spectrum I describe.  It has become clear to me that BDUs have a stronger preference for  Canadians to infringe a creators copyright than for Canadians to learn about legal alternatives to the broadcaster or BDU distribution platforms.

With the vertical integration and media concentration we see in Canada there is a strong need for the government to be monitoring and regulating the broadcasters and BDUs to ensure that they aren't able to unduly influence what Canadians are able to access.
  • Further steps away from freedom are the steaming services available from Canadian broadcasters.   These services offer a tiny catalog of content where episodes of series are only available a week or two, but never entire seasons available for audiences to watch at their own pace. These services are most often available on even fewer devices than CraveTV.

In the context of technological progress

I hope the idea of this spectrum is clear, and is a good starting point for comparing the growing variety of content distribution mechanisms available to Canadians.  While we can have an important debate about the type of regulation that is needed for various content catalog services, it should be obvious that content catalog services have very little in common with broadcasting, and that blindly applying broadcast-style regulation would be entirely inappropriate (and counter-productive).

It should also be obvious that Canadian content creators benefit when they are able to meet up on the platforms chosen by audiences, and that audiences are moving away from centralized control to content freedom.  Creators who are enabled to move with audiences by having their content unbundled from any content distribution platform will benefit the most.
We should note that there has been a progression over the decades from limitations in technology that kept us closer to the centralized-control end of the spectrum to more and more content freedom. Anyone who is thinking towards the future should be thinking about technologies that grant audiences more freedom, not looking backwards to technologies, business models, or government policies that restrict content freedom.

Greatest barrier to moving closer to Canadian Content freedom

The greatest barrier to moving closer to Canadian Content freedom, where greater freedom would have a positive impact for both content creators and Canadian audiences, can be seen in the tweet.
"If we want CDN shows on *all* our screens"
The notion is that who provided licensing fees, or who the copyright holder of Canadian content is, should be tied to which screens the content is allowed to be viewed on.  This is a concept which Canada must quickly reject, especially for any content that receives any type of public subsidy.  Once video is released it should equally be accessible on any screen, and distribution platform dependencies should be disallowed.

This is a concern I have had for a very long time.  It is a notion that only benefits those specialized companies that exist in the post-convergence overlap between the telecommunications and BDU sector.  For these companies, cultural content only exists to benefit their special economic interests. In their mind content and their proprietary content delivery platforms are a bundle, and some in the sector have offensively said that a specific show no different from a specific Happy Meal toy

This is exactly the type of inappropriate control over culture that required Canadian content regulations to exist. Canadian content regulation is needed because specific shows have connection to us as people in ways that are entirely different than a "Happy Meal toy".  These stories form part of who we are as individuals, as communities, and as a country.

A world where Canadian creators are mere employees or in some other subservient role to a specific content distribution platform is not one that can offer any respect for Canadian creators, Canadian audiences, or Canadian culture.

Unfortunately far too many creators have a Stockholm syndrome relationship with broadcasters or BDUs, agreeing to and/or promoting ideas which are contrary to their own best interests.  This is a serous problem that will require government intervention to protect the cultural sector -- sometimes from individuals alleging to represent the interests of the cultural sector.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gave up trying to watch a television series via Showcase #DigiCanCon

Last month I posted a review of the Showcase.ca website and my attempt to watch the Supergirl series. I later found this series on Google Play TV, no thanks to dishonest broadcasters who don't want Canadians to find out about legal alternatives to cable. When I noticed the source was Showcase I wrote:
I was considering paying for Supergirl season 2 to get away from the horrible Showcase website, but now that I know that it is Showcase that would get part of my money I dropped that idea.  I feel like I'm being pick-pocketed, not treated as a potential valued customer.
I've given up trying to use this horrible Canadian broadcaster website. I paid my $39.99 and watched this week's episode (Episode 6: Changing). This episode isn't yet on the Showcase website yet even though it aired yesterday.  With Google Play TV I expect to be treated to the episode much earlier -- in the case of BBC Class I get access to the episode 12 hours before it airs on the Space cable channel. Unlike the broadcasters (legacy OTA or Cable, or their websites), Google Play TV notifies me when a new episode is available and properly keeps track of what I've watched (and how far if I needed to pause), and gives me a consistently clear picture.

That was the only series I'm watching on a platform where I saw commercials. While the shows I watch via the CTV GO app likely intended to have commercials, no commercials are ever displayed and the show continues after a momentary blip around where commercials were likely intended to be. I hope that even though nobody has to pay CTV to legally access that content that CTV is still appropriately paying the creators as it isn't their fault that Bell/CTV doesn't know what they are doing.

My hope is that Showcase isn't getting much money out of my purchase as they deserve nothing. Typical to most broadcasters they are a net negative when it comes to the interests of the creators of the shows as well as their fans.

Update: Thursday, November 24.

No new episodes since the purchase.  While the episode from Monday is now on the Showcase website, it has not been added to Google Play TV by Showcase. Last week's episode went up on Nov 14, but this week's episode is not here (Checked again at 16:00 on Nov 24).

I've tried contacting Showcase via Twitter, as I don't see a way for me to contact their customer support via Google Play.

Next week is the 4-way crossover, and this was a big reason I got caught up on Supergirl and subscribed to this season - otherwise I would have waited for it to show up on Netflix.

While in the USA all 4 shows are on the same network (and all shows being made in Vancouver), old-media exclusive licensing means that while Flash, Arrow, and Legends are all on the CTV GO app, Supergirl is on a separate broadcaster (One that doesn't have an app, and whose website is broken).  I've paid money to avoid the website, only to now have to worry about whether the episode will be made available in a timely manner.

The episodes of the other shows are only available for 1 week on the CTV GO app, so if it is delayed again next week I will either need to skip watching the Supergirl launch of the crossover or source the episode from "somewhere else" (and after paying money to avoid it, I don't think that will be the Showcase website).