Friday, December 01, 2006

A few thoughts from the OFCOM event

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the first day of OFCOM's international conference in London, joining a panel with Carolyn Fairbairn, Eli Noam and Jonathan Zittrain, whose talks were centered around their contributions to the book. I found the most common ground with Mr. Zittrain, and had some areas of overlap with what he talked about. I set out to talk about some issues around investor perceptions of regulation, but also wanted to give a few examples of the difficulties regulators will face in even defining what constitutes a relevant service or market in future, let alone regulating it. Unfortunately, we were running out of time and I was last, so did the right thing and stopped short to allow questions. I think the session will eventually be archived with all the others from the two day event here (frankly, posting the videos to YouTube is hip, but I'm not sure how user-friendly it is when we're talking about 30-minute speeches).

I was impressed with James Murdoch's performance, which is not to say that I agreed with his message. However, he conveyed more substance and thoughtfulness in this venue than normally comes across in the typical earnings release presentations. I'm going to be bold and predict that a) we won't see him as CEO of Sky for more than another two years, before he takes over either Fox Interactive or the entire Mother Ship; and b) I wouldn't be surprised to see him pursue a political career.

Overall, these CEO/executive presentations collectively formed a sort of public lobbying exercise aimed at OFCOM and the EU, not that we should have been surprised by this: Sky - the PSB and BBC funding formulae need to be rethought, the BBC has megalomaniac aspirations outside of its remit; Vodafone - retail roaming regulation has no legal foundation and 900MHz refarming needs to be addressed before 3G extension bands are auctioned; Hutchison 3 - refarming should include an appraisal of redistribution of 900MHz frequencies; Carphone Warehouse - transparency and process in LLU needs to improve; NTL - some action should be taken over a certain someone's monopolistic behavior in sports and film rights; Google - some action on copyright release for indexation of printed and archival material would be nice (this is entirely out of OFCOM's sphere of influence, it must be said); Channel 4 - continuity in the PSB funding formula is essential to ensure a consistent output of quality indigenous content. All fairly predictable messages, but there were some interesting stops along the way. Charles Dunstone came across as fairly humble (humbled?) and made some very sensible statements about the telcos' necessity to understand their place in the value chain or risk alienating customers. Arun Sarin, in response to questions from 3 about equity in refarming, said he assumed some transaction might take place before that which might make the whole thing unnecessary, which got a lot of laughs.

I was intrigued by some sections of the session featuring Fabio Colasanti, DG Info Soc, because my human antennae told me that his body language suggested he wasn't entirely in accordance with the company line on Television Without Frontiers, or whatever unthreatening name it has taken on now. If you ever get the YouTube video to download, you can see for yourself.

Thanks again to the OFCOM folks for inviting me along, and to the Mayor for letting us have drinks at the roof of Thunderdome (inside it's a spiral, but that's a subject for another day).

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