Monday, December 13, 2004

P2P anxiety - misplaced?

The wires are humming again in the UK regarding piracy issues, and while the focus is very squarely on physical piracy (I was approached on a quiet backstreet in my London suburb last Thursday evening by a Chinese man hawking DVDs, so the stuff is literally everywhere, make no mistake), there is also included in the discussion a rehash of the data from the Industry Trust for IP Awareness regarding video download activity. Some commentators have spent a lot of time trying to debunk some of the stats being bandied about.

Whatever the realities on the issue of piracy and its impact on industry, as with VoIP in 2004, expect to see the mainstream attempt to harness or contain P2P in 2005. I found it interesting that Dr. Gali Einav, with whom I shared a panel at the P2P Video event at Columbia a couple of months back, was recently hired by the NBC Primary Research and Strategy Department, with the title of Manager of Digital Technology. I believe this reflects her full body of work around new technologies, but it is also not lost on me that the research she presented at Columbia in September was a granular survey of sharing behaviors and motivations among university students in the US.

However, looking at the fairly miserable track record of both media and telecom in tapping into popular revolutions (examples include a complete lack of foresight around email, SMS, Wi-Fi, music file sharing, and Microsoft's very late entry into a hosted blog service), I feel confident that the real P2P breakthrough lies elsewhere - namely in a proliferation of content from independent producers. I posted on Blog Torrent last week, and only one week later we now see the introduction of Prodigem from our friends at Torrentocracy. This is all groundbreaking stuff - a webmail-type interface for posting independently created audio and video to the world. The media world is naturally obsessed with what P2P can do to take control of its product distribution away from it. I wonder how aware Big Media is of its potential to create something in which it isn't even involved? That is ultimately a much harder issue to deal with.

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