The Long Tale

I wrote A World of Producers in December 2008. At the time I was talking about camcorders and increased bandwidth demand in both directions:

And as camcorder quality goes up, more of us will be producing rather than consuming our video. More importantly, we will be co-producing that video with other people. We will be producers as well as consumers. This is already the case, but the results that appear on YouTube are purposely compressed to a low quality compared to HDTV. In time the demand for better will prevail. When that happens we’ll need upstream as well as downstream capacity.

Since then phones have largely replaced camcorders as first-option video recording devices — not only because they’re more handy and good enough quality-wise, but because iOS and Android serve well as platforms for collaborative video production, and even of distribution. One proof of this pudding is CollabraCam, described as “The world’s first multicam video production iPhone app with live editing and director-to-camera communication.”

The bandwidth problem here is no longer just with fixed-connection ISPs, but with mobile data service providers: AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange, O2 and the rest of them.

For all ISPs, there are now two big problems that should rather be seen as opportunities. One is the movement of pure-consumption video watching — television, basically — from TVs to everything else, especially mobile devices. The other is increased production from users who are now producers and not just consumers. This is the most important message to the market from CollabraCam and other developments like it.

The Cloud has a similar message. As more of our digital interactivity and data traffic move between our devices and various clouds of storage and services (especially through APIs), we’re going to need more symmetrical data traffic capacities than old-fashioned ADSL and cable systems provide. (More on this from Gigaom.)

Personally, I don’t have a problem with usage-based pricing of those capacities, so long as it —

  • isn’t biased toward consumption alone (the TV model)
  • doesn’t make whole markets go “bonk!” when the most enterprising individuals and companies run into ceilings in the form of usage caps or “bill shocks” from hockey-stick price increases at usage thesholds,
  • doesn’t bury actual pricing in “plans” that are so complicated that nobody other than the phone companies can fully understand them (and in practice are a kind of shell game, and a bet that customers just aren’t going to bother challenging the bills), and
  • doesn’t foreclose innovations and services from independent (non-phone and non-cable) ISPs, especially wireless ones.

What matters is that the video production horse has long since left Hollywood’s barn. The choice for Hollywood and its allies in the old distribution system (the same one from which we still buy Internet access and traffic capacities) is a simple one:

  1. Serve those wild horses, and let them take the lead in all the directions the market might go, or
  2. Keep trying to capture them and limiting market sizes and activities to what can be controlled in top-down ways.

My bet is that there’s more money in free markets than in captive ones. And that we — the wild horses, and the companies that understand us — will prove that in the long run.

5 comments

  1. Brett Glass’s avatar

    New uses of ISPs’ networks do not represent opportunities unless users are willing to pay for the increased cost of those uses.

  2. Paul Bouzide’s avatar

    I absolutely share your opinion that there’s more money in free versus captive markets. The problem I fear is that developing these free markets reduces (or is at least perceived to reduce, which is just as problematic) the amount of money that flows into the captive markets. And since the “regulatorium” is among the “captured”, my further bet is we don’t get to see the payoff on the first bet. Except at the margins where the disruptive thing is more stealthy in its introduction.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Hi, Paul.

    Like I said, I think free markets will prove out in the long run. I just hope we can make that run short enough to finish in my lifetime.

  4. Seni Bana Yazmislar’s avatar

    I absolutely share your opinion that there’s more money in free versus captive markets. The problem I fear is that developing these free markets reduces (or is at least perceived to reduce, which is just as problematic) the amount of money that flows into the captive markets. Like I said, I think free markets will prove out in the long run. I just hope we can make that run short enough to finish in my lifetime.

  5. Steve Davidson’s avatar

    There is no debate here regarding your stance on free markets vs. captive, but the time and money required to develop those markets costs dearly, and I only hope that we can hold out for those changes to happen. The alternative is not good for my lifetime left, but will hopefully pan out for the next generation….

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