Traditional linear television will continue to be successful even in the media world dominated by online.
In the past year, there was hardly a media congress during which this was not reaffirmed. And yes, despite rapidly increasing Internet usage, the average daily television usage has not dropped yet. However, these market data for the overall audience are only half of the truth: Among the younger generations, Internet usage has long surpassed television consumption and the interest in Video on Demand is growing steadily. Even though the media libraries of the established broadcasters still hold up well in this field at present: It is foreseeable that subscription-based flat fee offers (so-called SVoD, Subscription Video on Demand) with more and more exclusive content will grow in popularity. The German broadcasters and network operators both face the challenge of how to sustainably address the content and marketing force of Amazon, Netflix, and Co.
Will “more of the same“, the expansion of own, broadcaster-specific video portals suffice in the end? Another option could be to leverage the strong market position in linear consumption to build a bridge between traditional television and Video on Demand. This bridge would be timeshift television. In this context, that does not mean the recording of individual shows on hard disk recorders in households, but a comprehensive offer on the platform operator’s server, where the television customer can ideally access the complete television programme of the recent days. Preferably directly via the electronic programme guide (EPG) which is also used for linear television. By way of distinction to personal video recorders (PVR) the conventional terms for such offers are NetPVR and backwards EPG. Experience gathered in other countries, e.g. Switzerland, indicates significant interest among television customers. In conjunction with a search function across all programmes an entirely new level of convenience for TV usage can thus be achieved and it creates the opportunity to close the gap with Amazon’s and Netflix’ SVoD offers with regards to their much praised usability.
The German cable TV network operators would have offered such TV functionalities – in cooperation with the broadcasters – yesterday, had they not been thwarted by copyright law. Timeshift television requires the acquisition of a vast number and partly unknown variety of copy and license rights. The chain of involved rights holders ranges from the broadcasters and composers and writers to the film studios. Basically this also applies to traditional, linear cable television distribution. For this, however, the copyright law provides specific procedural rules allowing a simplified bundled acquisition of rights: The network operator is not required to enter into a license contract with each individual rights holder in a television programme, the parties concerned are reduced to the respective broadcaster and collecting societies such as GEMA, GVL, and VG Wort. Although this still comprises many counterparts, the number of rights holders is no longer completely unmanageable. Cable television in its present form would hardly be feasible if it were not for such a “collecting society obligation”, where right holders and creators do not receive their remuneration due to them on an individual basis but via central collection agents.
However, there is no such procedural rule for timeshift television to date. The legal framework has not kept pace with the technological development. Even though the interests – the fragmentation of rights onto a large and partly unknown variety of domestic and foreign rights holders – are identical, since the same television programmes are concerned. Hence, the often proclaimed reasoning that the procedural rules and tariffs of regular video offerings should apply to timeshift television cannot be accepted. It is not a matter of premium content in upstream time windows of the value chain but a slightly time shifted use of what was broadcasted free to air shortly before. Therefore, the US American film industry’s concerns are of no avail either. They do not preclude the extension of the procedural rules governing cable television to timeshift TV functionalities.
In essence, it is just a matter of adapting the copy right law in line with the changing usage in the digital world. What is the point of permitting the usage of digital video recorders in set-top boxes but not a similar service of network operators, where right holders and broadcasters would continuously receive a share of the usage fees?
It would be necessary to extend the scope of application of Article 20b of the German Copy Right Act and the Satellite and Cable Directive of the European Union. Both sets of rules are presently under review in Berlin and Brussels anyway. Such product-related facilitations would incidentally do considerably more to promote innovative media offerings than the possibility of a cross-border licensing of existing usage forms – a measure often brought to the fore at political level – from which global online enterprises would probably benefit the most.
These issues will be part of several panel discussions at ANGA COM 2016 in Cologne from 7 – 9 June 2016 (www.angacom.de). Especially, I would like to emphasize the strategy panel “Next Generation Pay TV: Online TV and Video on Demand”. Following his keynote, Dr. Christoph Schneider (Managing Director Amazon Instant Video Germany) will discuss about the future of Pay TV and Video on Demand with Deutsche Telekom, NBC Universal Global Networks Deutschland and Sky Deutschland. At another strategy panel BurdaNews, Cisco, RTL interactive and upc cablecom / UPC Austria will discuss about Personalized TV, Recommendation Engines and NetPVR.