digital rights

Is your Podcast as popular as you think?

Chrysalis Radio have, rather bravely, conducted some research (source: media guardian, free registration required) into people’s usage of podcasts. The headline finding is that 30% of people who download podcasts never listen to them, and another ~30% don’t listen to the whole podcast.

One of the disadvantages of server generated statistics, such as volume of downloads, is that they tend to acquire a validity beyond reality and that are difficult to challenge. It does also demonstrate that it’s worth using traditional research techniques to calibrate server-derived statistics.

These numbers shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given the way podcasts are distributed. Once someone has, maybe on impulse, added a podcast feed to their podcast catcher (iTunes), they don’t have to think about it any more. There’s no penalty at all on them to just have it use up bandwidth and use up a bit of space on their device (iPod). So the server says they’re downloading it, but it’s not getting consumed. And so the listening figures for podcasts appear to climb every higher, disregarding any measurement of churn.

Can you imagine what would happen if Vodafone or Sky continued to report additions to their subscribers without accounting for people unsubscribing? The numbers would eventually become farsical and the game would be up. We’re not yet in the realms of obviously distorted podcast numbers, but the process of measurement is still flawed and therefore the numbers are wrong, just too small to be noticeably wrong yet.

Interestingly, two things might expose the reality of podcast consumption:

  • Digital Rights Management – rather than using the authentification phase to control distribution, it could be used to measure actual consumption – when the play key is depressed. It could also be used to measure when the consumption takes place, which would give some accurate information on how many hours content previously broadcasted is timeshifted by (5 hours, 15 hours, 5 days, 5 weeks?).
  • Charging for podcasts – if people have to pay for podcasts (either by payment to the content provider, or by being aware of a bandwidth cost for transfer), then they’ll be more likely to unsubscribe to content they’re no longer interested in, thus exposing the churn rate.

Podcasts are an important part of today’s radio programmer’s toolkit, but they’ll be more valuable if they’re part of the established audience measurement techniques. And there lies another challenge, and another post for another day…

digital rights

0A FA 12 03 9E 75 E4 5C D9 42 57 C6 64 57 89 C1

I’ve got back to a “proper” wired connection to find much furore over a sequence of hexadecimal digits. Apparently there’s some connection between those digits and the copy protection on BluRay DVDs, and there are threats of invoking the US’s DCMA law to contain the spread of these numbers.

But how far can you go to control digits? I’ve given this post a title of a series of hexadecimal number. Does this mean I might have done something wrong, even if I’ve just plucked those digits randomly? It’s just a sequence.

Combined with other information, for example the starting digits of the controversial sequence, and it might be possible for the educated to extrapolate a conclusion. But then who has erred in the eyes of the law?

As the value of abstract concepts soars, the stakes in protecting apparently arbitrary information becomes far higher. Submarine patents and software patents are other dangerously precidential areas for dispute. How do you draw the line between protecting an investment in content or technology, and protecting people’s freedom to exchange information without fear of inadvertently transgressing the law?

I’ve been shocked in the past at the breadth of patenting of what I would consider “plain common sense” technology. I’ve seen ideas I’ve just “chucked about” with people, patented. There appears to be a seedy side to patenting which is opportunistic and underhand, and discredits the genuine intent to protect investment in innovation.

As to this specific example? My view is that all DRM is merely shoring up dykes against a huge pressure to allow content to move about freely, and the lawyers are little Dutch boys running around plugging the holes. That might be what the DCMA demands, but who wants a career based on sticking their fingers in dykes?

digital rights

EMI, DRM and iTunes

I honestly thought it was an April Fool’s joke. This speculative report mentioned that invites were sent to the press on 1st April, which just sent king sized alarm bells ringing in my head. (I’ve been reading all weekend).

But apparently it’s genuine and true. EMI have listened to their customers, and agreed to start shipping decent quality audio without DRM. (Some confusion over whether it’s MP3 or aac).

Yes, it’s a significant move. It breaks Apple’s monopoly on music supply to the iPod, and would allow iTunes to sell music to Zune – it’s starting to look like a proper free market and putting cracks in the existing vertical model.

But looking beyond the headline, what can we see?

  • EMI is in poor health, and this could be dressing to stimulate interest and confidence.
  • Microsoft Zune may rely heavily on a vertical model to operate profitably; have EMI helped Apple kick the legs out from underneath Zune?
  • It’s not much fun without Universal Music. They control the lion’s share of contemporary music releases, so there’s not much to see without them.
  • What anti-piracy measures might be slipped in? Will the audio be watermarked to identify who’s leaking music onto P2P networks?

I’m pleased we’re seeing some movement, I just hope it’s genuine and followed up by other music download services and other music labels. (I’ll look forward to adding MP3 to

UPDATE: (2nd June 2007) – James has picked up on the fact that Apple are indeed putting personal information into their DRM free files, but in a far from elegant way.