Video Geographic Monopolies

There is one quirk about video which we don’t face with print – some content is simply impossible to access legally in some parts of the world.

I’m specifically talking about BBC’s Match Of The Day, their end of day highlights package covering the English Premier League. It was one show that I watched unfailingly during my time in London, both for the match highlights, and for the quality of the discussion featuring Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Ian Wright et al.

Now I find that the show is simply not available in India – some youtube channels illegally offer the show (before they are taken down, I guess), but without the bits that show pictures of the game (which they are not allowed to show). And that makes for rather painful watching, knowing that you’re watching something substandard.

This is not the case with something like text – as long as I’m willing to pay, I’m able to access content produced anywhere in the world. I can sit here in Bangalore and buy a subscription to the New York Times, and access all its content. Audio is also similar – I can sit here and subscribe to any international podcast, and be able to access the content.

Video doesn’t work that way. The problem is with the way rights are sold – the Star network, for example, has a monopoly on showing pictures from the Premier League in India (having paid a substantial amount for it). And part of their arrangement means that nobody else is allowed to broadcast this material in India. A consequence of this is that we are stuck with whatever (mostly crappy) analysis Star decides to provide around its games. Stuff that is unwatchable.

There is a lot of great sport content online, but the video part is constrained by the inability to show pictures. Check out analysis by Tifo Football, for example – it’s absolutely top class. However, for most games, they have to rely on stock images and block diagrams since they can’t show the pictures which someone has a monopoly on. And that makes the analysis less rich (the Athletic, which I have a subscription to, “solves” this in an interesting way – by using screenshots of the TV footage of the game as part of their text analysis).

I wonder if there is a way out of this. Some leagues such as the NBA have shown some enlightened thinking on this – while they are anal about copyright of their live feed, they don’t care about copyrights on recorded footage. This means that anyone can use footage from historical NBA games as part of their analysis. Better analysis means more people interested in the sport, which means more people watching the live feed, which makes more money for the league (read this excellent interview of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver).

I’m also beginning to think if there is a regulatory antitrust response to this issue. Video distribution (especially of live content) is a natural monopoly, so it doesn’t make sense to have competing broadcasters. However, I wonder if there is any regulation possible for historical feeds that makes them more tradable (with the rights holders getting appropriately compensated without much transaction costs)!

One can only hope..

The success and failure of Coupling, this blog and the Benjarong Conference

One of the few sitcoms that has remotely managed to hold my attention is Coupling, the series on BBC. I don’t think it runs “live” any more, and even when it did, the quality of the episodes fell off sharply in season three, and even more sharply in season four. Episodes of those two seasons simply cannot compare to the episodes of the earlier seasons. In possibly related news, a number of blog readers and commentators mentioned to me that they saw a sharp fall in quality in posts on this blog sometime in late 2009. None of them have told me that the blog has made any “comeback” of sorts. And given this theory, it is unlikely to.

Back in March 2009, there was a meeting of six great minds at Benjarong Restaurant on Ulsoor Road, which has come to be known as the Benjarong Conference. The main topic of discussion that evening was about chick-hunting, and more so in the controlled environment of South Indian Brahmin arranged marriages. The conference was a grand success in terms of the quality of discussion, and left lasting impressions on the minds of the participants. Kodhi, who is going to be arranged married later this year, mentions that over two years on, it was the proceedings of this conference that helped him make his decision.

The main attraction of Coupling, for me, was the theories that the character Jeff used to propound. Starting in Episode One of Season One, where he comes up with the concept of “Unflushable” as his best friend Steve repeatedly tries to dump his girlfriend Jane, and fails. And in subsequent episodes, when the three male leads (Steve, Patrick and Jeff) meet at the bar, Jeff always has a theory to explain why things happen the way they happen. Masterful theories, at a similar intellectual level that was exhibited at the Benjarong Conference. Jeff has a theory for everything, except that he is unable to implement his own theories and get hooked up. And what happens in Season Three? He gets hooked up (to his boss, as it happens)! And starts falling off the social radar, and even when he is there at the bar, he is incapable of coming up with theories like he used to. And in Season Four, he disappears from the show altogether, thus robbing it of its main attraction.

Four of the six participants at the Benjarong conference were single, with three of those having never been in a relationship. The two that were married were married less than a month, and one of them had met his wife not too long before. The conference drew its strength from this “singularity”. Single people, especially those that have never been in a relationship, have a unique knack of being able to dispassionately talk about relationships. The problem once you get committed, as readers of this blog might have noticed, is that there is now one person that you can’t disrespect when you talk or write. So every time you concoct a theory, you have to pass it through a filter, about whether your WAG will find it distasteful (most singletons’ theories on relationships have a distasteful component, as a rule). Soon, this muddles your thinking on these theories so much that you stop coming up with them altogether.

One of the pillars of strength of this blog between 2006 and 2009 was the dispassionate treatment of relationships. Then, in late 2009, fortunately for myself and unfortunately for my readers, I met Priyanka, with whom I have subsequently established a long term gene-propagating (no we haven’t started propagating, yet) relationship. And on came the “distaste filter”. And off went the quality of my posts on relationships. A large section of the readership of this blog knew me as a gossip-monger, and they would now be sorely disappointed to not find such juicy material on this blog any more. The only good relationship posts subsequent to that, you might notice, would have been on the back of some little domestic fights, which would have led to temporary suspension of the distaste filter.

Sometimes, though not in public forums, I do get my old distasteful sense back. Not so recently, I was counselling my little sister-in-law about relationship issues. After thoroughly examining her case history and then situation (examining case history and diagnosis is her domain. She’s studying to be a doc), I recommended to her that the solution for her then relationship woes was to get herself a Petromax. While it did help that my wife and her parents weren’t around then, the tough part was to convince her that it was a serious well-researched piece of advice. Maybe I should have packaged it less distastefully. And maybe it is time to accept that the distaste filter in my case is on permanently, and I’ll never be able to spout theories like I used to. And my dear blog reader, it is time you accept that, too, and stop holding this blog against its pre-2010 standards.

Quizzing for Aunties

Dear Random Relatives,

There was a reason that I earlier never told you about the quizzes that I was going for. It was because you would pepper me with utterly stupid and irrelevant and nonsensical questions which I’d usually never had the patience to answer. However, now that I have a wife who is significantly more social than me, and who tells you everything, I’m once again forced to handle those questions. So I’m putting the answers all here in the form of a post, which could serve as a sort of FAQ for the questions you ask, but the FAQ format will significantly constrain my writing so writing this in free form.

Ok, every quiz need not have a topic. That is some stupid thing that is drilled into you be these nonsensical TV quizzes. And when I tell you that, let me tell you that you’re insulting me by saying “oh, general knowledge, ah?”. Quizzing is not about “general knowledge”. It’s much more than that. It’s about thinking, about reasoning, about working out stuff and getting a kick out of it. The “general knowledge” that contributes to this process is not much. And by considering that it’s only because of “general knowledge” that one gets to participate in quizzes, you’re wrong.

Then, I know that your view of quizzes is formed by those shows you see on TV, like Kaun Banega Crorepati, or (in an earlier era) the random quizzes that would come on Doordarshan. It’s unlikely that too many of you would’ve watched the BBC quizzes (such as Mastermind or University Challenge) which came closer to “real quizzing” (in terms of quality of questions, though not in format) so I should perhaps excuse you for this thought. And while on that, let me tell you that not every quiz gets telecast on TV. And the likelihood of a quiz getting telecast on TV is NOT proportional to its quality. An inverse relation here may not be too far off the mark, though.

Next, I don’t mug “quiz books” or “general knowledge books”. Yes, I did at one point of time in life, when I was a little kid and my parents would force me to “prepare” for quizzes by reading such books. However, over the years I realized I wasn’t gaining much by reading those books, most of which had been written by people who could hardly be termed as quizzers (I, however, still “read” questions from actual quizzes. I faithfully buy the KQA yearbook each year, and have similarly purchased books containing questions that have actually been asked in quizzes that I think are of good quality).

Next, I guess you want your son to become a quizzer, right? I want to inform you that the Karnataka Quiz Association (or similar organizations in other cities such as BQC, QFI, BCQC, etc.) organize quizzes for school kids on a regular basis. Send your kids for those. For the quizzes in your school, try get quizmasters who also organize good quality senior-level quizzes rather than getting some teachers to put together some questions. And I don’t think your child gains anything by mugging up those “manorama year books” that you unfailingly purchase each year.

Now, having supplied these answers to you, may I request to check this link before you ask me nonsensical questions about quizzing?

Yours sincerely,