The debate around protecting content from ‘unauthorised’ downloads / usage has intrigued me right from the beginning both as a consumer and a content creator. While iTunes and more recently even sections of Bollywood have been able to sell DRM(Digital Rights Management) protected content and reaped moderate benefits introducing the idea of ‘paid’ digital media to consumers, DRM implementation is still hobbled by lack of universal standards, high costs and overstated efficacy.
A new medium needs a new idiom. The success of the quirky creative endeavors has been fuelled by a viral internet platform. The content creators allow users to viral (embed) their content and share it with the rest of the cyber world. For content creators like Will Ferrell (funnyordie.com) and the team behind Lonelygirl15, this scale up comes at very little cost in terms of marketing dollars and even better allows them to do what know best – create quality content. Add to this the power of social media and you have a potential one to one connect with all manners of niche audiences.
So what exactly are we trying to ‘protect’ here?
Short Form content on New media platforms hinges on four value propositions for the end user –
a) Anywhere, anytime
b) Low or no cost
c) Viral – lightweight, easy to share, mash up – personalize
d) Freedom of choice – search
So how does DRM play out in the context of such a democratic media landscape?
DRM, SFC & the New Consumer
• Never 100% protected
Given the well entrenched grey market (especially in countries like India) and the easy availability of technology resources, it is a fair assumption that the threat from piracy cannot be fully mitigated using technology.
• Digital content production is already encumbered by multiple platforms, operating systems and hardware protocols. A typical production cycle involves shooting (Digital cameras – more than 1000 options depending on the desirable end output), digitization (transfer from shooting tape to hard disk), post production (editing, special effects etc.) and publishing (preparation of broadcast masters or web formats).
DRM solutions do not plug into this pipeline. Typically a DRM wrapper is a separate component at the end this cycle (although popular editing softwares like Final Cut Pro do offer DM features, they are not efficient). This further prolongs the time to market and often leads to a downgrade in the overall quality of the product caused by conversion (especially in the case of Video).
•Since there is no single DRM protocol across devices / operating systems, a DRM wrapper around the content restricts the content and the customer to proprietary platforms (e.g. sa re ga ma, an Indian music label recently launched their DRM protected online store that has content (songs) compatible only with Microsoft platforms). This limits portability of media across devices.
• DRM limits / stunts virability of content – good perhaps for super brands like spiderman and big ticket Hollywood productions but prevents an organic growth and online community-based seeding for a small content producer.
In summary, protected short form content does result in some degree of negative impact on customer delight (and therefore uptake)
DRM becomes critical for a range of content producers partially because of the high cost around producing branded content especially when above the line costs like actors fees add to the budget. The Producer / Label is forced to look at multiple markets and long tail to drive profitability, revenue sources that are obviously impacted negatively by free availability of their products in the digital world.
The Internet is a beautiful medium to help content travel to various markets and demographics. Instead of locking it down be prepared to re-purpose / re-orient your product to any distribution channel, such as Mobile or even Print. Let’s make content available via easy, well-priced and simple interfaces that allows a consumer to purchase/download any version of the desired content suitable for their device at a rational cost.