Rant: Tivo and EPG’s coming to Australia+NZ..
I was quite stunned to hear the announcements this week that TIVO is (finally) coming to Australia + New Zealand.
It’s not that TIVO isn’t a great product - it’s that along with these announcements is news of a partnership with Channel 7 – and both Channel 7 and Channel Nine saying that they ‘support’ implementation of an industry wide EPG.
If you’ve been a user of the multitude of other ‘EPG’ ready PVR options such as Vista Media Center/MCE2005 or the various Hardware based PVR’s (ie Topfield etc) – you’ll know that the very reason we don’t have any proper EPG’s is that these abovementioned companies (Channel Nine + Channel 7 – the two main culprits) have gone to great lengths to actively prevent this from happening.
The EPG data is already there (has been in place for a long time), it’s in the appropriate formats – but the reality is that anyone who wants to make this data available to the public (for PVR usage) faces the threat of legal action from these companies. These companies have also blatantly refused to negotiate access to this data – with the numerous companies that have approached them.
The only company brave enough to challenge this has been IceTV – a Sydney based company who have stuck their necks out to make XML compliant EPG Data available to the public for a number of different PVR’s – and as a result is now fighting for their survival after being sued by HWW. HWW is a Channel 9 owned company who aggregates a print form EPG to newspapers/media. HWW of course went for maximum damage – and waited until the eve of IceTV’s IPO to decide they were going to sue. Their ground’s for suing IceTV – that they ‘owned the IP on the schedule of programs’. It should also be mentioned here that Channel 7 were also quite keen on suing IceTV as well – and am quite sure if HWW hadn’t done it first it would have been them instead.
So in light of this recent announcement – I’m really starting to get annoyed when I see these statements from the TV Stations (as quoted from the related news item in Fairfax Press) :
Bridget Godwin, head of policy and regulatory at the Seven Network, said the free-to-air TV industry supported the idea of an industry-wide EPG, and she was confident that one was "on the way".
and the absolute clicher from Nine (Channel 9) –
A spokeswoman for Nine said: "We support the concept of an industry-wide EPG and we look forward to working with other participants in the industry to develop this further."
Err… there’s nothing to ‘develop’ further here guys… (yes I’m sure they are aware of this)… the only thing needing ‘development’ is the actual TV Stations commiting not to sue+destroy anyone who actually tries to make this happen.
So really if these stations are really not opposed to have EPG’s or PVR’s available to the public – the whole situation really starts to stink of anti-competative behaviour and abuse of power from the TV Stations.
In fact the only valid reasoning I can see for the current situation to be the way it is – is that in the past – the TV Stations simply hadn’t got their Digital Media strategy together – and are using their monopoly to prevent any new players from entering the PVR and Digital Media market - without offering any equivelent product themselves.
It’s not that the EPG Data is valuable IP to the TV Stations - or they seriously think it being available will alter the piracy situation. It’s that any new PVR player/maker essentially relies on an EPG for it to be a ‘killer’ appliance for the mass market. (otherwise it just remains a ‘specialist’ product used only by those with tech knowhow). Cleverly (and deviously) – by drawing the line in the sand on the EPG access - the TV Networks can then cripple any company wanting to enter this space. It’s really crazy behaviour – as they can’t/won’t get away with it forever – and they are also missing valuable opportunities to obtain realtime/accurate viewing habits/ratings/statistics from users. (not to mention the ability to do historical AND future ratings simply by looking at the user’s schedule).
It’s also been clearly documented/observered in the US that the majority of TIVO users don’t skip ads (in fact a study a couple of years ago found that 80% of users didn’t want to touch their remote control while something was on) – and in fact provides a larger potential audience (as users are no have to chose between shows/stations).
I’m no lawyer – but I’m pretty certain anti-competative behaviour like this classed as a serious offence by the ACCC (Australian Consumer/Corporate Watchdog) – and I’m really quite surprised that they haven’t been pulled up on this. (or maybe it’s simply due to the new players not having enough clout to instigate an investigation). This really is a classic case of the 100 kg gorilla that noone will do anything about.
It’s going to be interesting to see what pans out with this TIVO announcement and if a ‘industry wide EPG’ actually becomes a reality.
And of course the outcome of the IceTV vs HWW/Nine legal battle has yet to be decided – and could really go either way at this stage (however I’m sure Nine’s announcements indicating that they wanted to people to have an EPG isn’t going to be a great closing point).
Unfortunately on this front – it’s unlikely any actual legal precedent will be set over the main question - ’is a program guide / schedule of events considered to be IP – or is it the IP actually just in the products they are advertising?‘. IceTVvsHWW instead seems to be simply a bunfight over who created the data being published.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone being sued for publishing a list of ‘whats on’ at local clubs/nightspots, nor any local rags being sued for mentioning what time a Movie or TV Show is being screened. In fact like with an EPG – noone will go to the theatre or pub – if they aren’t able to find out anything about the event - or when it’s on – so it’s no wonder Channel BitTorrent seems to be winning all the ratings of late down under.