Si Il Doit Partir?

Video and TV have been big topics for us over the last couple of weeks, with reports from satellite owner, SES, last week, and from the DTG event in London and Streaming Media East in New York this week. Next week, with Digital Signage week in London, we’ll be weighted towards DOOH and large format displays.

One of the main stories this week was the announcement that the UltraHD specification for Blu-ray has been finalised, although details are very scarce at the moment. Last week, we reported that John Adam of Samsung had said that he thought that the arrival of UltraHD could resurrect packaged media. I understand what he was saying – a really compelling experience could persuade people to pay out again for the definitive version of their favourite movies. However, I think it might be a “last hurrah” for packaged media – a relatively short moment of exposure and interest, but nothing that will really impact the future – in the way that vinyl records are currently fashionable.

The reality, in my view, is that the genie can’t go back in the bottle. The idea that you can get any content you want, any time you want it, is now the new normal. I remember in 1969, as a teenager, being on a family vacation, camping on the East Coast of the UK. My favourite band, Fairport Convention, had a new single out “Si tu dois partir”, a cajun/French version of the Dylan song “If you Gotta Go, Go Now”.

As I was on vacation, I had no way to play a copy, even if I had the cash and could have got to a store to buy one. I spent the entire day with my ear glued to the (large) radio and I remember the rows with my parents who wanted peace and quiet. Eventually, after hours of listening, I heard it. Relief and joy! Today, I can give you the url on YouTube and you can immediately hear it.

On the one hand, this freedom to check out the best music instantly is wonderful. If I hear a new artist today, it’s quick and easy to really get to hear them and their whole catalogue. On the other hand, the scarcity and difficulty of finding “the best stuff” really added to the emotional value.

Luxury brands understand this, and the same thinking is behind the record price paid for a Picasso painting this week. Economists call goods that have value based on scarcity “Veblen goods” as I mentioned in my editorial on Black Friday last year.

I remember reading some time ago, that the value and importance of a religion in a society more or less reflects the sacrifices that its adherents are prepared to go through to support the religion. If you want a strong cult, make sure you get some martyrs! That’s really a reflection of the same idea that effort, sacrifice and scarcity add to the value.

Perhaps if you want to persuade people that Blu-Ray UltraHD is the best option, make the disks expensive and the copy protection and DRM a pain. Actually, I’m not sure that the industry really needs this advice, it does a fairly good job on its own!

As I was writing this, I was listening on the radio to BB King, who has just died, and it took me back to the 1980s when I first saw the great man playing live. I saw him a number of times until around fifteen years ago, when I went to a party that he played at the club just across from the convention centre at Comdex (the Beach? – those were the days!). He spent most of the time in a chair – that wasn’t the same BB King that I remembered, so I didn’t want to see him again, preferring to keep the rare memories that I valued so highly of his great days at his peak.

A quick search for “BB King” on YouTube shows 376,000 results, so his desire to get out and play (he was famous for touring relentlessly) and get his music and message out, clearly worked. I’m not sure that those that look him up with the news of his death will have quite the same feeling as those that dug out his music in the 1960s, especially in a few import record shops in London. Would Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and others have been so influenced if they could have just checked on YouTube?

So, rarity and value or reach and volume? I suspect that Blu-ray has more chance as the first of those options, than the second.