I cannot say that the content, speakers or attendees were on the leading edge of thinking, but I always enjoy an opportunity to check the temperature of Canada’s digital media content industry. There weren’t many new ideas, but some good panel discussions provided insight into the current zeitgeist in the Canadian digital content industry.
Details after the jump…
Where’s the Money?
ICE is an industry conference, not a web thinkers conference like Lift or a Web 2.0 event like Mesh, so it has its own character. There was more searching for new business models and ways to push brands in new channels than search for meaning or context. It is an unusual challenge that Ian Kelso has on his hand at the rebranded Interactive Ontario (formerly NMBA): to somehow bring together game developers, digital media services companies and the big media titans into a single room and make everyone happy. One thing we can all agree on, apparently, is that money is important.
Joost v. Rogers, round 1 of X
Wednesday, we had the beginning of an interesting dialogue between small innovative content creators and the cable and telcos around the future of content distribution at the session titled NEW WORLD ORDER: A Cross-platform Super-panel. I don’t know what “New World Order” the organizers had in mind, but there was a sense of an elephant in the room. It’s name is Joost.
Brady Gilchrist of Fuel Industries argued that Joost is a major innovation that is very significant. As Shel Israel watched with bemusement, Mike Lee, Chief Strategy Officer of Rogers Communications rather predictably argued that it wasn’t innovative, that it’s all been done before, that it is made to look like TV (“channel-up, channel-down, volume-up, volume-down”) and doesn’t really change anything. At the same time, Lee made the point that the cable industry, because of it’s huge sunk investments in infrastructure and large subscriber base, is slow to bring innovations to market.
Rogers and Bell should be very concerned about Joost and the new platforms to follow it. Mike Lee’s apparent confidence indicates a strategic insight – the telcos have no intention of going down without a fight. And yet, the other shoe did not drop: the words Net Neutrality were on none of the panelists’ lips, but should have been at top of mind. I wanted the gloves to come off, I wanted to see sparks. But this is Canada, after all, and we are all too busy being passively aggressively polite to really get into it. Maybe next year.
Where Do Creators’ Long-Term Interests Lie?
Thursday, we had another panel Just a Pipe Dream? – The Evolving Internet, which was described thusly:
Historically, the Internet has been a global and free medium of exchange and distribution. However, as traditional media content has become available online, weâ€™ve seen changes to the very fabric of the Internet. Geo-fencing, network surcharges, traffic prioritization and peer-to-peer distribution are all changing the game for content distribution — for better or worse. What does the Internet of the future hold in store â€“ and what will be the challenges and opportunities for YOU?
Again, this is about Net Neutrality, if not in name. My question of the panel (if I recall my own words):
With a small domestic market (about 4% of the world) and with a status of being niche players in a global market for content, do the long-term natural interests of Canadian independent content creators lie with an open internet or a closed, partially locked-down distribution platform?
Another good question to ask: in a post-Joost world, what value does a cableco or a broadcaster add to either creator or audience? Is aggregation what audiences of the future want, or is infinite selectivity and always-on availability the future? How can such a future best be realized for both audience and creator?
Stuart Macdonald repeatedly and convincingly argued that the telcos have every incentive in the world to extract value from customers in order to fill the gaping hole in their voice revenues, that this was the fundamental driver on attempts to throttle or control the internet. So we have the beginning of the formation of battle lines.
It was a good opening discussion, and probably should have opened the whole conference. I didn’t think the moderator, Mr. Brian Seth Hurst was necessarily an appropriate choice…he seemed to be controlling the discussion more than facilitating it. But the topic got the blood pumping at least, which unfortunately much of the rest of ICE did not.