eXtensions - Monday 1 May 2017

Cassandra: Reflections in a Murky Pool - Media and Delivery Systems in the Land of Smiles

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Changes in the way media is delivered worldwide and locally are causing readjustments in the ways media users are handled. Some have reacted to new landscapes better than others, but the sands are shifting still.

There was a bit of a panic here last week when the government made some announcements concerning media and access: set top boxes and registration of journalists. It was what, and who, that were to be included that caused some worries.

AppleTV The boxes that can be connected to TVs have become somewhat popular here for a number of reasons. In my case, AppleTV has become such a good alternative, along with iFlix that I access via my iOS devices, that it became more economic for me to subscribe to these services (around 200 baht a month) when I compared the fees of the main cable supplier, True: around 1500 baht a month (but see below).

In the end, all I was keeping the True box for was to watch 20 or so Formula One races each year, as even MotoGP (the 2-wheel world championship) is accessible through a subscriber service. Although this is only on the iOS devices in my case as I refuse to have Adobe Flash on my Macs, I am told that they are experimenting with a non-Flash access and that should be available soon.

I saved myself the 1500 baht each month and now rely on these other services that provide me with considerably better on-demand video and television series. Not long after I unsubscribed, True lost HBO and other channels to upstart AIS.

That "on demand" means that I am not restricted to any schedule that the TV company imposes on me (and which could be changed on a whim). I can watch or not and the only thing that I insist on tying myself to is the motor racing: I want this live; although currently my Formula One access is restricted to the Timing App and the awful BBC commentary that it uses.

BBC Radio 5 that does the commentary also shares this online service with football reporting, so every once in a while the airways are handed over to someone at Old Trafford or another stadium for about 20 seconds and all I can hear is the background noise of racing cars. When the live feed is handed back there is another 30 seconds or so of soccer verbiage from the Motor racing commentator. I really am not interested.

Sunrises and sunsets
Sunrise here is sunset elsewhere

I dream of the day when Liberty Media, the new owners of commercial rights to Formula One, get to grips with the 21st century and allow subscriptions, like Dorna do for MotoGP. I am happy to pay €99 or thereabouts each year for uninterrupted access; and would probably pay more for F1. As much as Bernie Ecclestone did to build Grand Prix racing into a formidable media organisation, people are walking away from traditional TV transmission modes and internet access is overdue. I was not alone when I handed back my set top box to True. I was phoned (a couple of times) by True representatives asking why and there was a sort of resignation in their voices when I talked about on-demand viewing.

Several people I know raised eyebrows when the government announced last week that these set-top boxes had to be licensed when selling or installing. Included in the list of devices specifically named was the AppleTV and with one of the stated reasons being piracy, this makes the inclusion of this dubious. I am told that, with some recoding it is possible to install some software that might allow downloading of pirated materials, but you can do all that far more easily with a computer. Everything out of the box is legitimate and either comes for free (in several cases) or by subscription (e.g. Netflix).

If this programming or video access was downloaded to a Mac, it could just as easily be viewed on the TV through AirPlay if the AppleTV was used, or connecting with an HDMI cable. That "selling or installing" worries me, as there is no mention of those AppleTV sets already in use. I bought mine in an iStudio and set it up myself, but that was a couple of years ago.

Is this retrospective; and do people who had theirs installed by a dealer now have to license the use of the device? I did ask for a comment from Apple, but as yet have heard nothing, but this is a public holiday in many countries. There is a significant lack of information currently, which often happens when governments make these sweeping decisions: some poor civil servant now has to work out how to enforce the law, if it ever goes into force.

Replacing the box
Replacing the box

The other announcement last week actually had me more worried, as if I need a licence for my AppleTV, I will do that; or if it is too expensive, I will dump it and make other arrangements (like that HDMI cable). As had been done in Singapore a year or so ago, the government decided that all journalists would have to register with a soon to be set up committee for media control. As with the Singapore idea - which was specifically cited by the government in terms of control of media - bloggers are to be included.

Now I no longer write for the Bangkok Post - another fading medium - but all my articles are online and so are those that I continue to write (like this one). Where is the line drawn that decides who is or is not a journalist? Payment was mentioned, and the comment there was either direct or indirect which could be advertising or paid trips. At least with Singapore, the site volume was cited as a cut-off, so taking their limits as a guide, I probably would not be included, but who knows?

Fortunately, the amount of criticism that was unleashed over the weekend was enough to cause a semi-backdown, at least as far as journalist registrations are concerned. A media-control committee is still to be formed and this will be able to summon those deemed in breach of undefined limits.

a rock in the way
Something in the way

Several people wondered why the government should suddenly be trying to block access to boxes that would give people access to reasonable television programming and some wondered if this were True feeling the pinch. I guess that there will not be any direct answer about the motivations or any behind the scenes lobbying.

More fuel was added to the fire on Monday when users began sharing online images of a letter that True was sending out to customers, detailing in the best airline apology language - you know, the way that a total negative is turned into an enhanced customer experience - why the company was to raise its fees another 7% as from 1 June this year. I expect another rush for the door.

This seems to me to be the approach taken by some restaurants here as they begin the fail process. Rather than examine reasons for their problems, the price goes up. Instead of increasing profits, these decrease because the clientèle they had enjoyed up to then, begins to thin out. Staff are laid off, so along with higher prices, service is worsened and the one thing the owners fail to allow for is that the business is in a terminal cycle.

Television used to be thought of as a licence to print money, but worldwide subscribers are moving to services that suit them better, and the high prices of the traditional delivery system providers is one of the deterrents. Putting prices up is delaying the inevitable.

Fishing for customers
Fishing for customers

The key here is relevance. Television and newspapers have lost relevance in the face of internet access and online solutions. This is also facing the services that rely on these traditional media for delivery. Both NFL and premier league football have suffered significant declines in viewer numbers. This drop has also been experienced in Formula One with F1 Fanatic reporting a one-third drop in viewer numbers since 2008, while Variety (Todd Spangler) reports that in the USA, Netflix caused a 50% drop in viewing figures in 2015 and this is expected to continue as Netflix viewing "will continue to rise to about 14% by 2020".

At least Bernie Ecclestone had dropped his long-term opposition to promoting F1 on social media, but perhaps that was already too late and Liberty Media will have an uphill task with reinventing Grand Prix presentation without television at the center. The restaurant will continue to lose customers and the porous nature of the internet will still allow those who want to view what they want, no matter how many controls are imposed.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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