ICE07: Joost, Net Neutrality and the Future of Canadian Content

Ice-LogoI’m finally getting to my post about the ICE07 conference, (formerly iSummit). Ian Kelso and the conference team did a great job and the Carlu provided a comfortable and stylish venue.

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…

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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, we’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 – 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.

8 thoughts on “ICE07: Joost, Net Neutrality and the Future of Canadian Content”

  1. 4% of the world but almost 10% of the English (as a first language) speaking market?(get to making babies Canada and make uncle Mark happy).

    I think the Canadian audience is one very much worthwhile going after even if it is relatively small and full of obstacles. I like to think we are much more socially influential than the average beaver — which means a lot online.

    I only wish companies like HBO and Comedy Central would realize that so I wouldn’t have to get current episodes of their shows through other means.

    Distributing in Canada or not is a choice a producer really need not make. They can be as global as they want with the never ending choices available these days. btw: if you like joost be sure to check out zattoo =) …or at least for now while bandwidth metering remains in our nightmares.

    BTW: I was at that panel and I remember that someone said ‘Net Neutrality’ very clearly right at the start 😉

    Let’s look at the bright-side and consider the benefits. Canada does a decent job supporting the arts. Of course it could be better and I hear it will be. and Don’t forget tax credits and finally

    As a Canadian producer there are at least some resources and funds available to help in idea generation, production, marketing and distribution (albeit complicated, distracting and mired in paperwork and only because of the CRTC). uh oh… did I say CRTC?

    I could disagree with you all day .. but I also agree with many of your point too =)

    Z!

  2. ziggy (or shall I call you Jason?), the issue I am trying to highlight here is that Canadian content creators have huge global opportunities in a world of open IP-based distribution platforms.

    At the same time Rogers, Bell and other proprietary content distributors have huge economic incentives to prevent such an open distribution multiverse from disintermediating their core cable/satellite business.

    Until this basic fact is openly discussed, the appropriate reforms to the content funding and regulatory regime will not become part of the policy conversation. My sense is that fear is part of what is keeping that conversation from opening up: content creators do not want to piss off their customers and benefactors.

    Meanwhile, the world outside our Canadian bubble is changing radically and irrevocably.

    P.S.: The Anonymous Web is Dead, Zed. Any opinion worth commenting is worth putting your name to. Welcome to the conversation.

  3. no one here but us skwerlz.

    A squirrel by any name is still a squirrel? It doesn’t matter what you call me, I’ve been called many things =) although I am partial to the name Bob.

    I’m happy to say that I mostly agree with you but here are some comments anyway.

    a. Canadian content producers have always had global opportunities. It seems that many have chosen to swim in this pond for whatever their reasons or perceived incentives. I think fear is part of that condition as well. It can be big bad scary world outside the Kingdom walls. =o … or is it laziness?

    b. The landscape of the entire media chain is ever changing and evolving. At this time it is those that own pipe that hold the cards. They do own them, don’t they?

    I think it’s the large producer/broadcaster is faced with the most to lose and the most retooling required to their business models. Unfortunately their existing models are weaved into the fabric of the current regime.

    Dependency can certainly create fear of change.
    Canada is not unique in this regard — it’s a global occurrence.

    c. It would be nice to start with the basics and like you I hoped that it would be dealt with at that level first but I am very skeptical that it will. As I mentioned above, the industry is entwined in the same system that is also strangling it. It would be like cutting out a fibrous tumour — imo, an accurate metaphor for the state of things in the Canada.

    Just the same, culture, economics, and the interests of the Canadian public will also become part and parcel of this conversation IF it ever even happens.

    Net Neutrality is just another name for the same ol’ monkey on the Internet’s back.

    Since the first tcp/ip packet was sent, well before the term Net Neutrality was invented (for political reasons) the issues behind the words were already being discussed and debated as separate issues (Privacy of Packets, Copyright, Bandwidth Metering/Usage Fees, Regional laws in a Globalscape, Digital Divide/Equal Access, Common Carriage, etc.)

    Making it more bite/spin-sized may have aligned interests and compounded support but rolling all these issues into one catch phrase may also dilute the importance of each individual issue. I am concerned that this approach may also be creating a ball of confusion for the normal people who use the net.

    Not surprisingly net neutrality is not getting main stream coverage where normal people still get much of their information. It is also a bipartisan issue where neither will gain much ground by debating it as an election issue as was hoped.

    The revolution WILL NOT be televised.

    Regardless, this still remains THE MOST SIGNIFICANT AND CRITICAL THREAT FACING THE NOTION OF THE INTERNET to date.

    I say notion because I consider the Internet to be more of an idea than a thing. Many others describe it as a cloud. The Internet is simply a common agreement between networks to shake hands and play nice. BUT ever since we traded in our phone lines in exchange for the broadband crack pipes of carriers we put that notion into trust. As many suspected, that trust is breaking down and the notion of a global, democratic, interconnected, publicly accessible, network is under serious threat with dire consequences.

    I am sure some may say that the hackers will get around it and save the net for us. It’s not that that they won’t because they will but tragically by those means people will become criminals when bypassing the controls — “disrupting communication”.

    The idea that the Internet could one day become an illegal if not criminal activity seriously worries me.

    I guess we could always go back to phone lines but oh no.. we’d better hurry because that infrastructure is disappearing as is most of the analog world.

    Analog is dead. Long live analog.

    thanks for having me and for supporting the
    neo-anon web movement =)

    Z!

  4. This idea that net neutrality is something that has ever really been in place astounds me! Akamai distributes content with higher performance than other networks because of its location on the internet. 1000s of servers strategically placed closer to the individual receiving the content means that users receive it faster than if those same servers were placed farther away. This is due to an inherent “design feature” of TCP. TCP gives higher priority to sessions that have lower round trip times (and are thus closer).

    Peer-to-Peer does exaclty the same thing except that it even games the network worse! It tends to open many sessions all with low round trip times. So it can get much better performance than your “average” client-server session across the broader Internet. So, Net Neutraltiy is a complete farce from the get go.

    Seriously, now look at what YouTube is doing with Rivulet, or Joost is doing with its latest beta. They’re not following any rules on the network. They now shape packets to take advantage of the “lulls” in the bottlenecks so that they effectively can grab most of the bandwidth.

    The result of all of this is tha ISPs MUST deploy technology to once again make the network “fair”. Therefore, this entire notion of net neutrality has to go down the tubes (so to speak) if there is going to be any “new world order” on the Internet.

  5. Ted, lets carefully define our terms here.

    My place in the network may have inherent advantages or disadvantages. My pipe to the network may be bigger or smaller than yours. Neither of these are discriminatory, and are not debated by net neutrality advocates.

    Net neutrality advocates are against network discrimination and want to reinforce that ISPs abide by the common carrier principle: that networks should neither discriminate due to content nor be liable for content.

    If telecommunication companies providing internet access want to discriminate based on content, they become private networks and should become liable for the content on that network. They would thus expose themselves to legal liability for kiddie porn, defamatory speech, copyright infringement and many other kinds of legal risks currently assumed by the sender.

    I want to also point out that the phrase new world order puts a chill up the spine of many people. It may not be the best choice of words if you’re trying to sell people on the idea of a two-tier internet, particularly those citizens concerned with the power such a system grants to a small group of companies or the potential chilling effect on free speech we currently enjoy on the open internet.

  6. @Mark, & @Ted:

    I think the point is that the network today is inherently unfair. Peer-to-Peer sessions, P2P, always get more bandwidth than their fair share by opening up multiple sessions for the same piece of content (aka “swarming”). Akamai and other CDNs get more bandwidth because their sessions have shorter TCP round trip times. Therefore, net neutrality is a myth! Those who can and do pay for better bandwidth get it. As Ted points out, the real danger is from technologies like those from Rivulet and EdgeStream. These approaches effectively game the network to get deterministic or guaranteed bandwidth — meaning they will “beat” any and all of the other competing streams or flows.

    I recently heard Joost is licensing or buying EdgeStream, so we can expect that this whole situation is only going to get worse for the ISPs before it gets better. On the whole, however, it will mean more choice and lower prices for consumers. Rather than focusing on net neutrality, I think we should hope and expect the ISPs to embrace these new Internet Video distribution sites — even including all of the ‘big media” ones like MTV.com and Comedycentral.com. I wonder how long before the cable companies like the horrid Rogers will simply offer television over open Internet broadband. That would be the best for everyone!

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