Internet video, writers, and DRM

A large part of my job is keeping up with the video production industry. And recently, a large part of the video industry has been the explosion of the online video market. iTunes, TV network sites, YouTube – online distribution is proving to be both popular and lucrative. But, as with any new distribution mechanism, it is not without problems. Two of the (somewhat) most recent involve the extreme ends of the production pipeline – the writers who create the basic content, and the Digital Rights Management (DRM) that is applied to the final online files.

– Major League Baseball switched DRM providers, leaving anyone who bought video under the old DRM unable to watch their legally purchased videos. What’s worse is that they are not offering refunds, nor re-offering the videos under the new DRM scheme to previous purchasers. I believe this problem began in the spring, but it’s just recently come to my attention. More coverage here: Major League Baseball’s DRM change strikes out with fans.

– The Writers Guild of America is on strike, after contract negotiations with studios broke down. The major problem is with residuals – both with an increase to DVD residuals (which, I believe, have not changed since the days of VHS dominance), and with new clauses covering internet media and distribution. More info at the WGA website:

My takes:

– DRM is a nightmare, and I’m glad I’m not the one who has to figure it out. Studios want absolute control; consumers want it to be easy to use. Studios need to understand that, by making it almost impossible to obtain media legally, they’re pushing people towards illegal downloads. Consumers need to understand that they’ll probably need to deal with their legally-purchased media in different ways – it may no longer be simple (or as simple) to bring one of your movies over to a friend’s house. Either way, MLB is clearly in the wrong, and should do everything it can to appease the customers it essentially stole from.

– Writers are the content creators. They deserve residuals from every medium where their work is exhibited. Musicians get it – ASCAP collects residuals when music gets repurposed into film sountracks, right? And the studios’ proposal of reusing complete pieces as “promotional” material on any platform without residuals to writers is simply insulting.

Regardless, these issues will bounce around the industry for years to come, and will impact both how we create media and how we distribute it to the world.