A Smart Look at the Future of Television // In Collaboration With Quinnipiac University's School of Communications
I had a great first post for Hacktivision planned out in my head. Coming away from the What Is Television conference, I found that there was a lot of interest and discussion about digital distribution, which was wonderful. However, I constantly found myself asking, on Twitter and aloud, what the ramifications were for the world outside North America. Coming from New Zealand, I am very used to channels of digital distribution being unavailable. Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify – all are geo-restricted, and present attempts to view with a screen which is sadly familiar. Apple’s iTunes Store is available in New Zealand, but with a different, significantly smaller range compared to the US version, and it only launched in New Zealand in December 2006, compared to April 2003 in the US.
The promise of the digital is ubiquity. The idea that anyone, anywhere can access anything. But the culture industries are still locked in traditional business models, where distribution rights are sold and controlled by different companies in different countries. This means that the digital rights for every piece of content need to be renegotiated for every country, and for smaller nations like New Zealand, this often just isn’t commercially feasible. But what this does start to trend towards is a digital media divide, where North America (and possibly just the US as opposed to Canada) has nigh-on ubiquitous access to culture, but other regions are left out of the discussion and the debate. Now, I want to go to great pains to point out, the lack of on-demand digital culture is not the end of the world, it is definitely a #firstworldproblem. But it still does create a form of exclusion from debate and discussion, especially in the age of social media and instantaneous global communication.
The other stimulant for these thoughts were an Oatmeal cartoon, and its New Zealand-focused remix. The final couple of panels of the NZ remix highlight the secondary issues around digital distribution in NZ, which include the high cost and relatively low speed of broadband internet. It becomes second nature for those of us outside the US to expect that we can’t engage with mainstream international distribution sites, either because of geo-restrictions, or because of long buffering periods. There have been limited attempts at On-demand television content from the three main television providers in NZ, but these have been restricted to the material they are currently airing, and usually at the most have the most current episode and the previous. They do archive some of the material that they actually create themselves, but that is a very small amount of content. And engagement with that material is frequently painfully slow and interrupted.
However, while I was constructing this post, a Netflix equivalent was both announced and launched in New Zealand. Quickflix seems to be an Australian service which is extending into the NZ market. However, it is launching with 650 films and the grand total of 10 seasons of BBC television content. By comparison, Netflix currently offers 30,000 titles, with a TV series being considered as one title (so many thanks to @EdieS for doing the research on that for me). Subscription costs seem to be relatively cheap (in NZ, we’re used to expecting it to be four times the cost of the US), but the content still does not seem to be sufficient to really draw in subscribers.
I’m not sure where this leaves digital distribution of television and film in New Zealand. As I understand it, iTunes made a loss launching in New Zealand, and was only able to launch here with the financial backing of already having been a success financially. Whether Quickflix will last with the financial backing of the Australian arm getting it through, or whether it will fail as several previous attempts have remains to be seen. But it still doesn’t answer the larger question of how the culture industries will respond to a world where geographical boundaries are becoming less and less important.
-Contributed by Mark Stewart, -