Online media distribution网络媒体分销Raging bulls（注）愤怒的“公牛”
Music and television firms fret about their distributors’ new business models
New ways to enjoy songs and shows音乐影视欣赏新招迭出
RELATIONS between the companies that create media products and those that distribute them have long been poor. But perennial arguments about the price that ought to be paid for content are turning uglier as digital distribution transforms the media landscape. Like ageing boxers, big media firms have twice climbed into the ring to slug it out with high-tech outfits that seem to be building new business models with their property. In both cases the media firms are morally right. Yet both encounters have left them bruised.
Time Warner Cable (TWC) was, until a couple of years ago, a part of big-media veteran Time Warner; now it is in the other corner of the ring, keen to prove its tech chops. On March 15th TWC launched a feisty little iPad application that lets its customers watch some of the television channels they subscribe to on their tablet computers. Customers were so enthusiastic that the system promptly crashed. Many media firms were not. They say TWC has no right to redistribute their content without permission, even within a subscriber’s home, and complain that iPad viewings do not count towards a programme’s ratings. Cease-and-desist letters have been sent.
The second challenger is a heavyweight. On March 29th Amazon launched a digital-locker service for media. This will let the e-retailer’s American customers upload music from CDs or digital tracks (not just ones bought from Amazon’s store) to remote servers. They can then play their collections through a variety of devices—with the notable exception of some sold by Apple, the firm that dominates the music-download market. As with digital books, Amazon is trying to create a “buy once, consume anywhere” service.
Sony Music complains that Amazon does not have the right to stream music. Like TWC, the e-retailer is pushing ahead without the content owners’ permission in the hope that the public will come to regard its service as an inalienable right. For music firms that have been quietly negotiating with Apple and Google, which want to build locker services of their own, Amazon’s tactics are below the belt.
Even so, are the record labels wise to fight back? Their position is a tricky one. Digital music downloads, which had been growing quickly, stalled last year in America and Japan, according to the IFPI, a trade group. Piracy is one reason; another is that the limitations of digital downloading are becoming clear. Mark Mulligan of Forrester, a research firm, says music fans now expect to be able to play their collections of tunes on all sorts of devices. Some are finding, frustratingly, that they cannot. Amazon’s new service is designed to solve that problem.
Anything that makes digital downloading more appealing should be good news for the record labels. They should also welcome strong competition for Apple, which has held sway over digital music for a decade. On the other hand, collapsing CD purchases are making them desperate for new sources of revenue. If there is going to be money in digital-locker services, they want a cut. Some have stayed quiet about Amazon’s move so far because they regard it as the foundation of a more ambitious music service that will provide new revenues for them. It may be, for example, that consumers will be offered the chance to listen to each other’s music for a fee.
If the record companies are understandably torn about how to respond to a new distribution model, the television firms are simply wrong. It is hard to imagine a less disruptive innovation than TWC’s iPad app. By letting people who have already paid for a programme watch it on another screen, the app raises the value of a television subscription and strengthens the pay-TV ecosystem on which media firms depend. They may win their fight, but it might have been better not to enter the ring.