Recently Chris Anderson of Wired was interview by Charlie Rose. This was one of the better Tech interview I have seen this year. (Direct link to Charlie Rose and it Comments page) It was to promote Chris Anderson’s new book on “Free!” in which he lays down the reasons why the future on much of the content on the internet is “Free!”. Free and niche.
I agree with him. What I liked most about this interview is that some complex ideas of the direction of the internet and media where presented in a clear and straightforward way. He articulated very well.
For example, it is well accepted that TV and internet are becoming one. If we look at our current TV offerings, the most common form of TV is called “Free-to-air”. Ie TV, in general, is free to watch.
These FREE models are well established and understood. They are based on advertising. These ideas are what makes Google such an important company and why Microsoft is trying to purchase Yahoo.
However, this got me thinking about what “FREE” actually means. Strangely enough FREE = DRM. Let me explain.
In gerneral, nothing is “REALLY” free. To watch free to air TV you have to also watch the TV commercials. Well they hope you watch them anyway. (Tivio technology asside). Considering this, what does FREE mean on the internet?
To get access to this free content there must be a catch. Something to actually pay for it. Something to encourage you to watch the commercials. Something to get a brand into your head. These yet to be fully established ideas, are well in development by 100′s of startups in the youtube type space.
DRM, however, looks like an integral part. DRM and/or streaming. DRM, when it comes down to it, is a form of restriction. It can be used to fully restrict you, or in this case, simply encourage you to NOT skip commercials.
Secondly, the side note on the future of content on the internet is niche. Again, niche content is most likely to embrace DRM.
If it is niche, it is content not many people want or, many people may want but on rare occasions. When they do want it they will pay for it. Usually because its worth it to do so.
If you had ownership in niche content, you would want to protect it to archive the best return. As the content is harder to get, harder to find. It is less likely to be available via torrent sites and other Pirate type sources. The only real hole in this idea is what defines neche. As more and more people get online, niche becomes harder to archive.
The final message here is that I find it very ironic that the industry is evolving into FREE content while at the same time DRM is becomeing even more important. DRM is said to have failed. And in many cases it has. However, DRM in the sense of “FREE” is likely to be very effective.
Unlike traditional DRM where the objective is to stop piracy, DRM in the sense of FREE will be used as a form of encouragement. The content IS free, and as such would be easy to re-package as a Torrent. But why borhter if its already free, and you have to sit through a form of advertising you cannot avoid? (More on this level of advertising later.)