Someone was telling me recently about their experiences with BT Vision.  This is the on-demand TV service that hangs off of your HomeHub/Broadband service.  To cut a long story short, it seems to have one problem: it doesn’t work very well. Even when it does, downloading a movie to watch can take about 3 hours or more.   And here lies the gamble you have to take: Although I’ve always found BT Vision quite an attractive proposition, you can never really find out how good it actually is until you have it installed and by then it’s too late.  The conversation drifted onto on-demand TV generally, SKY, Cable, and so-on, and I remembered an article in the Guardian recently where Emily Bell said that the only true ‘on-demand’ is the DVD box set. Considering that even if you get a reliable service out of BT Vision you could go to HMV and back in the time it takes to download a movie, I think she might have point..

On a related note I was also chatting to someone about opensource software initiatives. They said something about ‘wouldn’t it be great to extend the ideas to the entertainment and content industries’.  This conversation got rather more heated and impassioned than the woes about BT Vision, but this is a very much summarised version of what this guy was on about:

The traditional ways of developing software are coming to a close, with organisations looking to build systems using freely available tools and where the products are released into the market to others to build upon.   These principles could apply to the entertainment industry with public service content being available in the same way.

That’s roughly it.   There are a number of issues here. 

Firstly, on the ‘software’ point, I’m always slightly wary when people use the term ‘software’ to describe the development projects they are engaged in.  Software – to my mind – is something you go out and buy (or otherwise aquire, I guess) – and that implies a slightly different approach to building a system internally.  Adobe build software. An internal information systems operation is not Adobe: It performs quite a different role with different motivations.  Many organisations (probably most, actually) don’t build software. They build Systems to forfil a specific purpose.  This is an important distinction and not just petty pedanticness and it’s important to keep the differences in mind.

On the ‘open source entertainment’ note:  This throws up various issues.  Firstly, the product of our creative and entertainment industries isn’t freeware.  It is mostly owned by someone – somewhere – and they are going to expect payment for its use and rightly so.  It isn’t for the technology industries to dictate how someone else’s property should be used.  Obviously negotiation and innovation mean that that content can be made available in new ways but this should be on the artist’s or owner’s terms.  If you have a book out you’ed expect a royalty cheque each quarter.  You wouldn’t want someone unilaterally deciding to distribute it for free just because they’ve knocked up a cool software tool capable of doing so.  Where technology comes in is that it can provide information about what is available and enable ways of getting it.  You have to remember that just getting information about what exists is a breakthrough. Remember the books example: There were consulting companies in the late 90s telling people that books were dead.  Complete nonsense of course – the internet resulted in book sales going up. That’s mostly because people can get information about whats out there and don’t have spend hours looking. So no. Books are not dead: And nor are high streets, radio, movies or anything else.  Nor, most importantly, is television (even if the so called ‘visionaries’ and ‘futurists’ still seem to insist that it is). The key is trying to unlock what we already have and getting it to people, but there revolution – if there is one at all – is in finding out what we have (and making more of course):  Not in the distribution – certainly if BT Vision is the benchmark..

Astonishingly, I’d said all of this during one pint….

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