Category Archives: Item of Interest

Something I found interesting written by someone else.

Why do I have two inconsistent positions about copyright?

Just lately I’ve been dealing with a content aggregation site (or two) that had articles from this blog listed in their articles directory. Worse still is that the site is designed to distribute articles to other sites. I don’t mind the idea: if a writer wants wider distribution, then it probably makes sense to syndicate the article there, than have it sit in obscurity.

I had to fight fairly hard to get my articles out of their system because I had not put them in that system and didn’t want the articles syndicated wildly. Now I do have some syndication organized (if you’re reading this on Toolfarm, thanks) but I don’t want this content distributed anywhere I haven’t directly authorized.

The articles were removed but only after I re-served the DMCA takedown notice on the owner of the domain name, as the normal site admins were not acting in according with the provisions of a DMCA Takedown notice. (I actually thought I’d have trouble when I realized, from the domain registration, that the company was actually in Israel, which isn’t actually covered by US Copyright law! Fortunately they did the right thing.)

We were talking about this over dinner and I realized I had a double standard going on. Not necessarily a bad thing but any internal inconsistency is alway s worth examining.

I was remarking that I am fairly certain there’s at least one school or college that’s using my HD Survival Handbook as a class text, which is not exactly being used in accordance with a single-user license that is the normal purchase. (BTW, we’re always happy to do very attractive bulk pricing for anyone that wants to reuse in a school or commercial organization, as we did recently.) But the thing is I wasn’t particularly upset by it. Sure, I would prefer that they made an arrangement with us for official distribution, but the thing is, I didn’t have any proof that they were doing something wrong. There may be a way that just the teach uses the work as a reference.

If I had actual proof put in my face – such as a student saying that the HD Survival Handbook was actually on a student-accessible server at her college – I would have to act. (In that case I sent a nice email to the original purchaser at that college stating what the student had said and he immediately made it right.) When I say “have to act” I actually mean it. Should an author not act on flagrant breach of the licensing conditions, there are circumstances where the author can lose the copyright exclusivity.

So I was struck with my apparent double standard. I am less worried about meticulously keeping the commercial writings only to those who purchased, than I am about these thoughts being widespread. ¬†Partly that was because the instance with the aggregation site did not have link-backs to this site – the uploader had substituted links to their site, and the content was misused – wrong tags and confusing descriptions. My name even appeared on an article I didn’t write! But it’s also because a lot of what I write here are the beginnings of my thinking about something, or they’re going to be (or have come from) commercial writings.

Mostly, I think, it’s because the commercial products were written to be distributed widely. Plus, if there is a whole class or two that are using my work as their textbook, I’m still being compensated with reputation building. I’m not unhappy with the thought that a whole generation of student will grow up thinking that I provide accurate, understandable and useful information. I figure that will lead to some compensation some day. The portion that does pay for the downloads, and I like to think that’s the majority, make the project well and truly worthwhile, and frankly, I don’t think those students would have paid anyway! Whatever money a student has should be kept for the truly important things… ūüėČ

Here though, I’m writing as much to clear my thinking or have a record of something I’m fired-up about as anything. I don’t have advertising on the site and don’t expect it will be a commercial return. I do hope that it’s reputation building, and when you reproduce this work without authorization, you’re taking my reputation and using it for your own purposes. And I don’t like that.

PS

What I consider highly appropriate is to make reference to a post, summarize the main points – perhaps quote a paragraph or two – and then link to the permalink for the article here. (Click on the article headline and the URL will be the permanent link.) That type of use is a compliment.

Why did Blackmagic Design buy daVinci?

Of course, I don’t have any direct link into the mind of Grant Petty, founder of Blackmagic Design and don’t know more about the purchase of daVinci other than what Grant posted, but it’s such an interesting purchase that I can’t help but comment and guess.

Like so many of the industry’s giants of old, daVinci was losing money in the face of lower priced competition (Apple Color) and a reliance on mostly-obsolete 2K-limited hardware. On the other hand, Resolve is software only and resolution independent running on a cluster of Linux machines connected with Infiniband high speed data interconnect. daVinci also have Revival, although I don’t know anything about what advantages it brings.

Clearly, Grant thinks that the company has not been making the most of its opportunities and more focus on marketing and product development will once-again bring the daVinci brand to prominance. (Assuming it ever lost it.)

However, I don’t expect we’ll see Blackmagic Design suddenly want to start competing with Apple Color. I don’t think that’s the market and Grant himself seems to rule out that direction:

DaVinci Resolve is unique because it uses multiple linux computers linked together with¬†InfiniBand connections and multiple GPU cards so you get the real time performance advantage it has. I don ľt think that can be lowered in price much, however over the next few years as technology advances this might happen a little. However,¬†DaVinci is different to a DeckLink card because it ľs a high performance computing based tool. Our focus will really be on adding more features. That ľs what we want, and I guess others would too.

Possibly, some time in the future, a network of multiple Linux machines might be replaced by optimized code on some future 8+core Mac with awesome graphics card and an application written with Grand Central Dispatch and ¬†OpenCL in mind. But don’t hold your breath! Combined CPU+GPU power has to increase a lot to replace multiple machines and the market is not that big.

I think the move will allow daVinci to continue developing their modern products and repositioning the company (to be operated independently of BMD) for the mid-size post house: those that have become dissatisfied with Apple Color but who would not have purchased a full daVinci hardware/software package. If the price could be, say $60K instead of $300K (or more) then that has a really good chance of reviving the brand and – in that inevitable trend – make higher quality available at lower price. That has always been Grant Petty’s goal, so it seems this is consistent.

What is the future of Internet TV?

In his latest column,¬†The Future of Internet TV (in America)¬†Robert Cringely talks about the success of Hulu and the two dominant modes of distribution: streaming (RTSP) or download (HTTP). Hulu is firmly in the streaming camp while Apple and iTunes are in the download camp. (YouTube acts like streaming in that no download is left that’s easily accessible, but in fact it’s a download mechanism, not streaming.)

Now, I’ve been a long term fan of the download model, being very taken by the efficacy of RSS for this type of distribution. So much so that I helped invent a technology for doing commercial distribution through RSS feeds. Cringely tells of the unsatisfactory experience attempting to stream from Hulu – with rebuffering needed several time, even after they dropped the quality of the stream. RTSP is hard to do well because so much of the delivery channel is beyond the control of the “broadcaster”. But like established business models, they try and shovel their old model into the new channel. Rarely works like that.

By the way, Chris Albrecht has a column on the topic over at NewTeeVee.com with the clever name, Hiccups in the Stream, That Is What They Are.

We love the idea of streaming video over the Internet directly on our television sets. The issue is, when you stream video to your house, you open yourself up to problems you don’t get with progressive download. With streaming you need to get a continuous bandwidth to cover the signal or there are hiccups or temporary freezes in the stream. This can happen on cable systems during peak periods when more people are sharing the neighborhood bandwidth.

Hulu is undoubtedly getting very popular, and will become more so now that Disney are joining the group (with Fox and NBC-U). However Cringely looks at what is a viable business and Hulu, YouTube et al fail. RTSP is expensive, but more importantly, advertising supported media on the Internet has no possibility in covering the cost of production any time soon.

In other words, the model that has sustained television for its life is probably not going to sustain whatever we’re going to call the same thing delivered via the Internet. Funding will have to change. Personally I’d prefer to pay the equivalent to advertising-revenue-per-viewer for a show (because it’s a relatively low 25-75c per viewer per show) and skip the advertising.

Cringely’s suggestion is that Apple, or Google, could easily chip in say $3 billion or so a year for programming production and commission the same shows as are broadcast now (or, in Fox tradition, the same shows with different names) from the same producers that produce the best entertainment now.

This is something I’ve hypothesized on myself so when Cringely is on the same page, I have to go re-examine my thinking. It worries me to agree when so often I don’t. ¬†

Let’s say a 13 episode half season costs from ¬†$32.5 milliion (Friday Night Lights or Mad Men) to say$ 60 million per 12 episodes. There can be some substantial saving if these series were made outside the Hollywood Studio system – probably halving the real cost, but let’s not go there right now. ¬†After all Cringely’s problem is that we can’t pay all those folk in the value chain from non-existent advertising revenue, while they do all get a small, slice of an iTunes Store sale.¬†

For easy math, let’s say the average hour of “television” is going to cost 50 million per 13 week season, or 200 million for a year’s programming. As we saw in my earlier post about how the numbers stack up¬†for new media, programming in that price range rates 4-5 million viewers (or it’s produced more cheaply or cancelled). Some programming, like the Daily Show, is very viable at 10c per viewer per show.

There is cheaper television. The Daily Show’s $5 million a year deal with Comedy Central buys about 80 TV hours a year. (161 half-hour shows in 2008) so Apple or Google¬†¬†pick up for $5.5 million or so per year. But the Daily Show is not Prime Time.

$200 million per Prime Time hour per year. $3 billion buys you 15 hours a day or Prime Time Television, with Network standard production and the expectation of Network size audiences. Keep in mind that Prime Time for the networks has been considered 22 hours a week, or an average of around 3 hours a day, not 15 hours a day.

Scale those numbers to Cable size budgets and audiences and an Apple or Google, putting in just 10% of their available cash-on-hand could create the equivalent of a five new Prime Time channels each.

It still seems that NBC-U, ABC-Disney, Fox and CBS need downloadable sales and rental channels more than ever. Clearly they don’t have the power in the argument.

Do I think Apple would ever go directly into the production business? Probably not “willingly” – as a first preference path – but as a bargaining ship against any network that wanted to withhold content….? It’s a very interesting thought. If Apple felt that commissioning the content themselves was in their best interest, they’d do it in a heartbeat. They have the money, it’s only a matter of a decision.

OTOH, I don’t think that will qualify for being ‘new media’ any more than I think Hulu does. My definition, What is New Media anyway?,¬†came to the conclusion that new media is where there is a direct connection between the viewer and the producer. Having Apple commissioning shows would have Apple as the gatekeeper, rather than the network and their advertisers. I suppose getting the prissy advertisers out of the loop might improve the programming by allowing to be more real. ¬†

 

What is the role of “failure” in innovation?

At the recent Pizza and Post night at Video Symphony event, I focused on the way that I’ve been pushed into innovation. Part of the reason I innovate is simply because I see a need. A few years back, Tim Wilson said of me:

“Philip looks beyond what is possible to what is necessary.”

Or put another way “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Initially, innovation in my world was driven by necessity. I had production ambitions beyond my equipment budget so found innovative gear that wasn’t part of the mainstream, starting with an Apple ][ based computerized edit controllers for a pair of U-matic 2850’s – real clunkers now. If we’d have had the budget for “regular” 1″ gear there would have been no innovation.

I had serial number 0030 for the Fairlight Computer Video Instrument – a crude pre-cursor to today’s computer manipulation of video images – that let me create visual complexity beyond the scope of the hardware limitations. The CVI was years ahead of its time but I knew, even then, that computer manipulation was the future of hardware. (By way of reference, we’re talking the mid-1980’s, definitely well before 1987.) ¬†Low budget production drove me to adopt innovative technologies that may not have been “ready” for traditional mainstream.

That’s another clue to innovation: stay out of the mainstream. I’m essentially self taught (with the assistance of thousands of my nearest and dearest Internet friends) and went into a production business without having ever worked in film or video production.

One of the great freedoms to innovate with program style starts with a trusting client, and the ability to control the process. Trusting clients, who let you explore unusual program styles, are relatively hard to come by and I was blessed with two. An early 1980’s video for the NSW Coal Association (Australia) was a “two hander” safety video except the lower thirds were “visible” to the actors – bought on by the click of a finger from one actor to re-enforce a point. The fourth wall was not broken in the mid 1980’s, particularly not in training video.

My other innovative client allowed me to explore¬†anthropomorphizing¬†the ‘heart and soul’ of an aged care facility. In a video on correct budget process, I created ¬†a two hander between the budget and administrator of an aged care facility (with only those two actors – all other characters were imagined).¬†

Innovation usually starts with someone saying “Why not?” Why not give that program style a try? Why not try a new piece of equipment that’s a fraction of the cost but isn’t proven in TV production?

Why not try and drive revenue during the quieter periods by making our own programming? If we’d been wildly successful in production we’d have had no quiet periods. Instead we had excess production capacity so we decided to innovate by creating our own programming that we would sell. This was probably more business innovation than technical or creative, but we partnered with a local association to produce videos and training manuals, that paralleled a national curriculum taught in 76 TAFE colleges (think US Community College and you’ll be close) but had no teaching resources. We never sold fewer than 52 of the packages and the revenue sustained us through many of those quiet periods.

In 1994 we were an early adopter of Media 100 – leaping whole generations of technology into the digital non-linear world. I’d fallen in love with the concept when I saw my first Avid about a year earlier, but Media 100 offered price advantages and I could finish broadcast quality on it.

That was the first NLE in Australia’s sixth largest market and it was five years and four Media 100’s later before a single Avid was sold into that market. Digital post became the mainstay of the business, along with effects creation since we could do high end effects in Media 100/After Effects that would otherwise have cost thousands of dollars.

In 1995 I purchased my first modem and discovered the Internet. Specifically I purchase the modem to get access to the Media 100 User Group email group. Suddenly I was no longer the “oddball outsider” in the Newcastle market, but par of a wider movement worldwide among other early adopters of NLE.

By 1997 I’d learnt enough from my peers that I wanted to share that knowledge. At the time I was very into non-linear learning but did not feel that “interactive software” was ready for mainstream adoption at that time. So the Media 100 Editor’s Companion was a two volume non-linear book, with built-in easel because there’s never enough room in an edit bay.¬†

If we’d been so busy with work in 1997, we’d have probably never followed through and put in the effort. However, because we did, we gained US and Canadian distribution and invitations to speak in those countries. Ultimately the 2001 move to the US was as a direct result of writing that book, which was a result of buying the modem!

That attempt at innovating the training manual also led, indirectly, to being part of the beta program for Final Cut Pro version 1 in early 1999. By now the technology had moved forward and we innovated with the DV Companion. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we had invented an Electronic Performance Support System – the only one ever applied to creative software. They are essentially a software coach that’s there when you need it, with information delivered in a floating palette in text or video form.

However, because hard drives were small and video codecs inefficient, the only way to deliver > 3 hours of video in the DV Companion, we had to create them as sprite animations within QuickTime. Sprite animations, a.k.a. wired sprite movies, are part of the QuickTime toolset that most people have never heard of. It wasn’t until 2004 before we could move to all video (screen capture content) but in 1999-2004 we were able to innovate and provide video support when no-one else could, because I understood what was possible, although rarely done, with QuickTime.

If the Intelligent Assistants had been incredibly successful, we probably wouldn’t have continued to innovate and create a central resource for post production called the Pro Apps Hub, although it may have happened anyway, as I have a low threshold of boredom.

Ultimately we had to abandon the Pro Apps Hub software: part of the development environment was not moving forward to Intel OS X and that was clearly the future of OS X. Besides, by this time there were a lot of great FCP and Boris training content available and I’d rather be doing something no-one else was.

One of the highest compliments I can pay someone is “You ask great questions.” It is the question that frequently leads to innovation. Back in 2000 I was working on editing a documentary for friends in Sydney and realized how little of the footage ever ended up in the final cut. I wondered if it would be interesting to make that available, but my own sense of aesthetics dictated that this would mean generating custom edits based on search criteria.

We explored that a bit, going as far as demoing an early attempt at QuickTime Live! in early 2002 before leaving it on the back burner until a friend asked if that could be adapted to working with metadata. Just over a year later, in August 2008, we released the first of our Assisted Editing software tools. There’s a lot more innovation to come in that field.

Another great question we got asked was “How can you charge for podcasts?” That question ultimately ended up as the technology called klickTab that is used by Open TV Network. There is more innovation to come there too as we bring the technology to the book business.

Naturally I think both the current businesses – Assisted Editing and Open TV Network – have great potential and room for continued innovation. But if for some reason they don’t take off, then there will be more innovation, pushing the boundaries of what “needs to be done” regardless of whether or not it’s possible. Charging for individual items in a podcast feed was “impossible” until we did it. Building a first cut of a documentary from log notes was “impossible” until we did it. They needed to be done. And by we, I mean my ever smart, partner, Dr Greg Clarke, without whom most of this would not have been possible.

What if “video” is just another form of literacy?

A long, long time ago (at least 10-12 years back) I started to hypothesize that we were heading for a generation for whom “video production” was just another form of literacy. Eventually the majority of people will have some degree of production skills as a part of their work.

It’s not as wacky idea as it seems. ¬†Go back a couple of ¬†years and you’ll find only a very small elite had the tools and skills to read and write (the classic definition of literacy). Pre¬†Gutenberg¬†it was a very elite skill and definitely not something you’d want the unwashed masses doing. The ability to read and write was a defining skill that separated the “educated leadership” from the masses of followers. The Catholic Church continued the elitist practice of a Latin Mass, in part to continue a “mystique” about the ceremony because only the priesthood understood Latin.

Literacy, or the lack of it, is a way of controlling a population. Then we had the Industrial Era and (relatively) cheap printing and slowly more and more people acquired the ability to read and write. It was no longer “special” and no longer a guarantee of income or career that it once was. ¬†Being able to read or write no longer defined the position.

Now that about 90% of the Western population reads and writes acceptably, we see how important it is to all types of jobs. There are very few jobs where you could fulfill the function of the job without knowing how to read and write.

Business WomanFor some people, their ability to write is their primary skill. Novelists, playwrights, screenplay writers, etc all primarily use their writing skills to make a living. But nearly every business person writes reports or writes PowerPoint presentations. People fill out forms for a living, or correct filled out forms and enter them into an electronic storage system. People (used to) write classified ads before Craigslist  came along. 

If you think about it, there are very few places where you could survive without knowing how to read and write: to be literate.

As I predicted, I think we’ve seen video production and post production skills move from being niche knowledge areas, accessed only by the High Priests (and occasional Priestess) of the Television and Film businesses. The technology was hard to work with, bulky, needed a lot of power and a lot of light. There were genius engineers who kept cameras aligned within themselves and with other cameras.

Today’s young production crews don’t have the joy of recalling the pain of aligning the three tubes in a camera to each other; or the “fun” of 4-Field (NTSC) or 8-Field (PAL) frame sequence in editing. Personally I’m glad those days have gone, along with linear editing and all that went with it.

Now, like the advent of cheap tools in reading and writing like the ball-point pen, electric typewriters and eventually laser printers, means that anyone who has a reason to write, can do so.

That’s where we are, or are heading, for the very broad field of ‘video production and post production’. ¬†It’s not the job any more, it’s just a set of tools almost everyone uses in their life somewhere.

Laptop in classic library

But like classic literacy, only very few will make it their primary means of earning an income. Instead, those skills will be common to most people. Some will use the same basic skills to add some video to a news website along with the article, some will use it to record and present events, some will use it only personally, some will have to use it as part of their work and some will make it the primary means of income generation.

Instead of the latter being the only way to exercise these skills there are now many, many more ways to exercise them. As I say in my seminars on the subject, because of the advent of low cost, high quality production tools, anyone who has an idea and the drive can produce their project.

I don’t think “high end” production is going to go away, any more than widespread literacy forced the novelist out of business. 150 years later there are still highly successful novelists, just not a whole lot. There are a whole lot more (thousands of times more) who use their literacy skills as part of the way they make their living.

And that’s where we’re heading: to a world where there’s nothing special about video production skills, per s√©, just different ways of leveraging those skills into an income stream in association with other skills.