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cyclomedia's Journal: How we can topple big media - and it's not YouTube

Journal by cyclomedia

Recent efforts by the RIAA, MPAA and now TV studios to throttle, take down and demonise "file sharing" are seen by plenty of us around here as less of a Copyright battle and more of a fight to retain both their business models and their top-down control over customers and artists.

What we, as an internet community, need to do - and before the cartels get the legal footing to reimage the 'net into a good old fashioned Corporate to Customer "one way street" of content - is take charge. The content needs to be freed, it needs to be available to the masses but not via a torrent client scripted to monitor an RSS feed but rather via any regular set-top box (STB). Most importantly however, it needs to be legal, and it needs to be somewhat better than YouTube quality.

And this is how...

Firstly we need a standard, open and easily implementable set of formats for Audio, Video and Image content. They may not all be patent-free (yet) but it might be a start if these could be H.264, OGG Vorbis and PNG respectively. The latter can also be used for Thumbnails in the feeds which is the next step.

Secondly we need a network of interlinked channels of content, in that a channel can contain any type of content, or links to other channels, with descriptions and thumbnails. As the content will be in standard formats these channels can be direct (or distributed) download links, rather than forcing everyone to stream. There already exists a channel syndication format, it's called MRSS. Again, it might not be perfect, but it's a start.

Thirdly this needs to be packaged together in one lump of a spec, centrally coordinated in something akin to the w3c but open to all to implement. Now anyone making a set-top box with a network connection will be able to allow their users to surf and watch content. STBs with hard disks will be able to pre-fetch new content from bookmarked feeds whilst their owners are on holiday. Geeks with file servers under the stairs will be able to centrally store it and view or listen to it from any device in the house. XBMC will be able to fold it into their kernel, and there will be no geographical limits, no DRM and no central control. Everyone will be able to link to everyone else's feeds and content, creating their own Channels, and this is where step four comes into play.

The fourth step sees the level of user-created content rise above that of YouTube, yes fun and funky home videos will exist on this new media-web but the ease with which anyone will be able to mashup their own channels will act as a filter. If a large site dedicated to SCI-FI hosts their own channel then it may be that they pick up and "syndicate" the high-quality SCI-FI shows that are out there. Imagine surfing your channels one night and finding a new episode of Star Trek : Phase II in 720i ready to roll. This cross-linking, big-site hosting and blogging is what will allow the quality content to rise to the attention of the masses without it being lost in the noise of everything else. Just open your "This Week's New Sci-Fi" bookmark, hit "Play All" and your Saturday night telly is sorted!

Fifthly - the legal standpoint - if these feeds are full of LOST_S04E01_480p_LOL.avi links then we'll be missing the whole point of the exercise - wresting control from big media into our own hands. The above filtering will cure some of that: if the big sites only link to legal content. The key is to start it out hosting Creative Commons content (without mandating it), so you'll be able to listen to a couple of Nine Inch Nails albums and a whole bunch of stuff you've never heard of. Of course this author relishes that idea but the unwashed masses have their existing comfort zones, this is something only pressure and time can overcome. One way may ahead could be that home-brew "radio" stations will take off, playing content they themselves have sourced from the feeds as well as supporting themselves via ads. There will be no licensing fees to pay to the cartels because they won't own any of the content. But once one or six "stations" become popular the nervous users will have that comfort zone of being told what's good!

Ultimately all online content could shift to this model, be it my own dodgy homegrown breakbeat techno (3 CDs full) from the mid 90s to the next Blair Witch Project. And once that shift is in full swing - and the whole thing is legal and available anywhere to anyone with a connected PC, Laptop, Mobile, TV or Toaster - then big media will have no choice but to compete on our terms.

They will not be able to force DRM, streaming or geographical limits (though nothing would stop them from hosting different editions on their .com and .co.uk servers, physical IP-blocking aside) but they will still be able to exclusively host their own content and even hold off switching on their download for America's Got Sandwiches until exactly 8pm on Saturday night if they like.

They will be able to embed adverts into their audio and video and this will work in their favour - no one will bother torrenting an ad free version if the legal and ad-embedded version is already their on their TV at the click of a button. We can even allow the MRSS-like feed spec to embed links to "Buy the plastic disc edition exclusively from our online store" or "Visit our merchandise store for concert tickets and exclusive must have hand bags" right alongside their feed if that will help them get on board.

At the moment we don't have a coordinated, easy to consume free media distribution system online. There's content embedded in web pages, streaming via flash applets, downloadable via http and ftp. There are Creative Commons searches and archives, there are torrents and there are even plastic disc editions. There are also a plethora of Miros, iPlayers and codecs galore. But if instead of containing the access to the content in one application for one or two OS's we make the publication of the content an open, accessible and Really Simple Syndication system for Media we can make it so that Joe Sixpack doesn't have to get off his sofa to watch it - or spend hundreds of dollars on a HTPC instead of a few tens on a simple STB.

If we can do the above - and keep it legal - the cartels won't be able to attack it and that's when the revolution will begin.

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How we can topple big media - and it's not YouTube

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