Last Week in Tech Law and Policy, Vol. 10: Digital Technologies and Innovation in the Distribution of Content

(by Sam Moodie, Student Attorney)

This past Thursday, Colorado Law’s Silicon Flatirons Center hosted a conference focusing on the current state of innovation in the creation and distribution of content.  The conference hosted well-known artists in music, film, television, and photography as well as major players in content distribution to discuss in part, how digital technologies are either enhancing or challenging traditional structures of creation and distribution.

Music

Music has long been the stage to exemplify how digital technologies can frustrate and disrupt an entire content industry.  Some have argued that the rise of music piracy, peer-to-peer sharing, and pay-per-track have drastically reduced profits for music executives, song writers, and performing artists alike.  The new wave in music distribution is streaming—a technology made possible through licensing and advertising revenues.  However, artists claim that this model drastically under-compensates them  for their work, to the point where an artists song earning a million streams may not even earn the profit of $100.  In response, some popular artists like Taylor Swift has removed her work from Spotify, one of the most successful music streaming sites.

Many now question whether streaming has fundamentally shaken the music industry at its core, or if the traditional business structure simply needs to adapt slightly in order to remain relevant. Some take the perspective that users need to be retrained on the value of content, and how to interact with it.

Television

Digital technology in the television industry has quickly stepped in to answer users’ demands to control their content.  The most notable means through which this has happened are subscription networks like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  This distribution model arguably assists in the democratization of television because producers can work directly with distribution companies instead of working within the traditional broadcast television structure.

Similarly, the interfaces used by these entities provide a wealth of content and allow users to interact and search for content on their own terms.  The subscription model allows for a wider array of content, often much edgier than can be found on mainstream television, and at a vastly lower price compared to cabe subscriptions.

This leads to the question of whether cable and broadcast are still relevant, and if so, if they can remain relevant in the future.  Some consider the current price of cable subscriptions to be unsustainable given the success and popularity on online streaming television.

Some see traditional and digital entities as being able to work together.  As noted at the conference,  cable providers and producers see themselves as the leaders in providing up-to-date and new content.  Coupling with entities like Netflix that provide past seasons of television shows all at once, allowing viewers to binge watch and catch up on past content, may be a perfect marriage for complete access to content.  However, with Netflix now creating its own series, how long will cable have a relevant role in this relationship?

Regardless, it is increasingly clear that these technologies are giving a considerable amount of leverage to users. The point where the balance has shifted, and industry executives are losing more and more control over their content.