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Whenever I launch a search, as I do several times a day, I search my own mind for the right sentence. The one I project onto my screen that almost instantly displays a selection of precise, well-organized responses, from the four corners of the Web as well as from the depths of my memory. OK, I admit, this is a slight exaggeration… The new Brain Search engine that everyone’s talking about is only available in Beta version so far, but its first steps are just as promising… as they are disturbing.
There’s no let up in the desperate race that began soon after the Internet was born: the very first search engine, Archie, created by students at McGill University in Montreal, opened up a decade of ceaseless innovation. Examples include Aliweb and Excite in 1993, followed by dmoz, Webcrawler, Lycos, Infoseek and Yahoo! Directory in 1994. As Altavista – co-created in 1995 by the Frenchman Louis Monier – gave us our first lessons in applied searching, two students got together at Stanford and three years later set up a company that won everyone over. Google, not content with its almost planetary leadership, found the recipe for an original economic model by becoming one of the biggest advertising space managers. Its power brought in the necessary resources to feed the insatiable ogre which is the Net, through initiatives aimed – without a trace of modesty – at “organizing the world’s information”! From the Earth with its cities and streets, to the Moon and planet Mars, via the world’s libraries and books, museums and their works, music and videos… all accessible in a wide variety of languages, in a virtuous circle making the tool ever more efficient.
That doesn’t leave much space for challengers trying to exist in the shadow of the Menlo Park giant. Some countries, like China, South Korea or Russia, still distinguish themselves with leading search engines at home, such as Yandex, Seznam, Naver or Baidu. They still manage to resist Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft. But in any case, searching remains a favorite pastime for internet users, as in 2010, when it headed the list of applications, on both the fixed and mobile Internet. Which is why so many start-ups are still launched, some claiming to launch a revolutionary engine, like the Italian Volunia in 2012, or more often by focusing on pockets of knowledge that are still outside the universal targets of the giants. Vertical searching has prompted a new wave of innovation, by format (images, videos, podcasts, data…), by type (books, blogs, favorites…) or by topic (finance, brand, price comparison, travel…). Some have come up with novel applications, such as Waybackmachine, which finds the archives of web pages from the past.
Others, like Simplexo, offer to simplify the search for our own information on all our devices: computers, mobiles and tablets. The past decade was also inspired by the arrival of new algorithmic techniques, making searching more fluid and effective. The results are displayed even before the key word is written out! Searches or recommendations made by other users make certain results more relevant. You can also choose the format of the results according to their intended use: a list, a report or a presentation… With the progress of the Big data combined with the semantic Web, searches can now be returned even before thinking about the question!
take the form of complex spoken sentences.
But despite all the progress, the new knights of the Search are investing more than ever in their quest for the Holy Grail: the tool that is capable of synthesizing all sources, all contents and all computer terminals, with the Web as its playground, a Web whose size is ever-increasing in response to the pressure from the billions of Internet users who are now mobile. @
Buy, sell, swap, barter, trade, lay away, compare, bargain, bid… in the days when e-commerce is king, all forms of trade have at one time or another being affected or transformed – the long dominant superstore model being slowly eroded to eventually be rendered obsolete. The structures of commerce have changed very slowly over several generations. The strong increase in online sales revenue, which stood at more than 20% back in 2010, should not hide the fact that these transactions represented less than 5% of total retail sales at the time. Now, ten years later, they account for more than 20%. If classic forms of trade still have sunny days ahead, there is no denying that a deep-seated change in how we shop is well underway.
The conditions driving this change are by no means new apparitions, however. Mail order sales are as old as the printing press: already back in the late 15th century, printers were producing lists of available works and distributing them at fairs, and so opening the way for catalogues as promotional tools two centuries later. In France, it was not until 1870 when Printemps published its catalogue in 12 languages that we saw the true birth of the model which, for more than a century, remained the symbol of the department store making its way into your home, and elevated to an art by clothing manufacturers. Hit by the Great Depression after the World War I, the French clothing industry reacted by creating the powerful mail order concerns, 3 Suisses and La Redoute. Next came advent of online shopping in 1979, as created by the UK’s Michael Aldrich and which really began to come into its own in the early 1990s. The power of the Web opened up a Pandora’s box from which a continual stream of innovations continues to flow.
One of the first consequences of this development was seeing online shopping replace mail order sales: by 2010 La Redoute was reporting that 70% of its sales were online, making it one of the most popular sites in France that year, ahead of more veteran juggernauts eBay and Amazon – logging close to 12 million unique visitors. E-commerce was a real challenge for these players but also a natural development, in addition to being crucial to their survival and an opportunity to overhaul their business model while expanding their customer base.
Gradually, all retailers were forced to incorporate the Web as a new channel for sales and a way to communicate directly with customers. But the real novelty of course came with the many Internet purely players which forged themselves a stronghold in several well-targeted goods and services markets. And these are the sectors that are undergoing the greatest changes, as online sales far outweigh those generated in physical retail outlets: books, electronics, clothing, shoes, health and beauty products…
Consumers are being offered an endless series of new features to enhance the shopping experience. By tapping into all facets of customer relations, thanks to the power of the new instruments at their disposal, sites are able to offer what was once available to only a privileged few: private sales, cash-back schemes (fatwallet.com, Fabuleos.fr), group buying (Clubdeal, Groupon), etc.
And let’s not forget the social networking sites that have incorporated e-commerce by capitalising on their huge user bases. Plus the shopping experience itself is continually being enhanced, with consumers now able to visualize their new kitchen in 3D, try on a dress in augmented reality in front of a mirror, not to mention the host of services available in real time on mobile handsets.
In this ongoing digital revolution, we can expect to see new forms of trade being rolled out, continually pushing over into new frontiers and making online shopping an increasingly engrossing activity. And this to such an extent that I sometimes find myself echoing Pierre Dac in his wish to “one day work in a shop of dreams where they sell only imaginary things”.@
I’m going to see my uncle for the first time since he and his family moved into one of these new e-neighbourhoods that we’ve all been seeing in those slick ads for a while now. So of course I’ve been dying of curiosity! The entry gate opens like magic, just by scanning my face and at the sound of my voice. And if that wasn’t enough to impress me on the gadget front, my aunt let loose a veritable Zen fairytale: the walls and the ceiling welcomed me by turning a warm blue, while playing one of my favourite songs. There are screens everywhere inside their home. Flat screens in every room like so many picture windows opening onto the Web. Personal tablets are scattered here and there, the way books once were, ready to be opened and read. And right up to the mirrors in the bathrooms that display the time and the weather and can play a video or something off the radio. No to mention the security and home management systems which are invisible to the eye, working away in silence, while a few dedicated robots took care of the dull household chores. My hosts, who spared me no detail, were eager to introduce me to the dramatis personae who were the vacuum cleaner and ironer.
This high-tech dream has become a reality, even if it is still only within the reach of certain elite, who tend to be diehard geeks. If it is a field that is developing very slowly, it is no doubt because it imposes so many restrictions on the home, starting with our habits. Since we were little, most of us have imagined a house as four brick walls topped by a roof and a chimney with a plume of smoke coming out of it. Futuristic houses long remained just objects of curiosity and research. In 1957, Disneyland built the House of the Future, allowing visitors to time travel to a typical home of the 1980s. It was later demolished and rebuilt in 2008 in partnership with Microsoft, HP and Lifeware, and made into a new attraction. Despite this clear view of the avant-garde, it took a long time for intelligence to make its way from the lab to the home. Decades of unfulfilled promises on home automation went by. To the point that, in the 1990s, it seemed like everyone was afraid of even uttering the phrase that had become synonymous with a vast graveyard of innovations. But progress was gradually being made. Components, micro-engines and sensors eventually allowed a real market to develop, starting with heating/A/C and home security management systems (automated locks, security cameras, etc.). The real novelty to emerge from the 2000s was the development of the – oft announced and long awaited – first digital home networks, without which none of this would have been possible. With the help of a box, Wi-Fi and little PLC, millions of households were able to actually experience a network of interconnected computers, phones and TVs.
This of course ushered in a new era of applications. And a new battle between the providers of solutions over a few key questions: where to store the content? How to control digital home solutions? Should it be a box or the TV? The market was initially structured around solutions that combined devices, services and proprietary content – during which time alternative technical solutions were being developed that enabled greater interoperability inside the home, either via interoperable devices or by using a central multimedia server. We then saw the gradual rise of solutions whereby services and content were integrated in a device, and switching to online or, as they are more commonly known, home-in-the-cloud solutions.
Now that information technologies live inside our walls, my uncle, much like Jacques Tati’s uncle in his day, reigns over his domain like some high-tech suburban pasha. Leaving us to contemplate vital existential questions: will the house operate on Windows, on Android, Linux or on Apple’s latest OS?@
It’s been more than ten years since the start of what has come to be called the war of the connected TVs. A fast-moving decade during which we went from the passive cathode tube from the 20th century to the flat screen, which is now interactive thanks to simple connection to the Web. Everything could have been very simple, and instead was very complicated. The available technologies had us believing that internet-ready TV was coming any day. This was back in 2000, and we were only just entering the experimental stage. A stage during which the pioneers, like Sky in the UK, were the first to offer interactive content. The big deal back then was the ability to order a pizza over the TV using the remote control.
But it was Google that really started things moving in 2010 with the rollout of its Google TV, a major move whose aim was to grab onto a new source of ad revenue, after having conquered the online ad market and forged a solid foothold in the mobile world. A veritable fireworks ensued. With hindsight, the frenzy does appear justified. We had just reached the breaking point: the one where the balances of the past were crumbling under the combined pressure of technological innovation and newcomers working to grab their share of the pie.
Broadcasters played their part, rolling out – in some instances with their backs against the wall – initiatives like YouView in the UK and HbbTV on a Europe-wide scale, the goal being to create walled gardens for TV programming where the broadcast stream was enhanced (but not competing with) broadband content. National specialists like Roku and Vudu in the United States, and global players like Apple with its Apple TV device, introduced solutions that combined access to premium video services and a selection of the “best” online multimedia sites (music, social networks, photo, etc.) over a proprietary box or a third-party’s connected device.
The hardware heavyweights like Sony once again tried to push their media centres which were to manage all of the content on all of the digital screens in the home. Meanwhile, others, like Samsung, joined forces with major internet companies such as Yahoo! and worked quickly to mount the first TV app stores, in the hope of reproducing the miracle of mobile app stores by adapting them to the TV. Then there were those, led by Google TV, who remained faithful to simple ideas by offering seamless access to all available content. And this on the television which remained the central entertainment screen in the home, and a unified point of access to all content, regardless of provenance (broadcasting, VoD, catch-up TV, Web, mobile…). While some had announced the death of TV, drowned in a sea of screens, television in fact continued to reinvent itself in a whirlwind of innovations, driving users to replace their sets more and more quickly to get their hands on the latest screen – which went from flat to HD to ultra HD to 3D and internet-ready. Even the remote controls that were, at best, clunky, cluttering and a little bit stupid, decided to get smart as well, outfitted with a keyboard or a screen – then went head to head with the mobile to see which would become the universal remote inside the home.
So we are at last returning to a certain degree of simplicity that we had almost forgotten, after the digital blizzard that whizzed around our sets. By becoming thinner and thinner, our screens will soon be flexible and ultra-light, equipped with the same capabilities as the most powerful computer, portable, wall-mountable and, in most cases, invisible. It will then be up to remotes to disappear, now that our screens obey our gestures and voice commands, making it easier to access and organise this ever-expanding universe of pictures, videos and millions of channels and programmes which are available now that the language barriers have been erased, thanks to the real-time subtitling provided by my favourite online service.
I was out shopping with my mobile last night and… Oh, sorry, that must sound weird to the uninitiated. See, my mobile phone has become the must-have device when I go shopping: I can use its camera to look at a whole shelf of products, then employ an online app to identify all the products on the shelf, compare the prices and find out which ones are the best bargains. All this in real time. The transparency on prices that was made possible by the first generation of online shops and price comparison engines has ushered in a new era, even if the services that enable this little demonstration of the power of m-commerce have been around for over ten years now: an application like RedLaser, which is owned by eBay, already allowed users to read barcodes on products back in 2010, Amazon Remembers could ID products and Layar is an augmented reality app that adds information to an image viewed in real time on a mobile phone. But it was only recently that we saw these applications interconnected and tailored to the power of the devices, which makes them easy to use.
I was trying to remember the first mobile shop I used, and I was reminded instead of the grocery truck that used to drive from farm to farm dotting the landscape in the Causse, honking its horn as it entered the property where I spent a part of my summer holidays. The back doors opened up and were turned into a sort of counter, revealing a hodgepodge of merchandise that looked to my young eyes like a fabulous treasure trove in the middle of that stone desert. The second image that comes to me is of those fat mail order catalogues sent to us from some far-off location that would fill our mailboxes. In the internet age it seems like my postman had loaded up on all of these catalogues before heading off onto the information highway, travelling back through time onto my mobile phone. Each time I use my tablet to order something, I have this same sense of wonder.
But m-commerce is much more than just online shopping. The power of the portable personal device, combined with the power of the onboard applications triggered a veritable revolution which is by no means confined to just simple sales transactions. By locating you in their shop, retailers can send you personalised offers by looking at what is already in your basket. Both online and in brick and mortar outlets, shops are rolling out an endless series of innovations. But the real cornerstone of the system, and the one that was the longest to put into place, is payment methods that are crucial to having a system that lives up to its promises. The complex ecosystem that involves equipment manufacturers, telcos, bankers, retailers and customers took a while to build. Who can forget the fierce battle that played out in 2010 and again in 2015 between Apple and its app store, Google and its Android system and the top telcos who tried to regain control of the market by creating a common operating system.
One of the most spectacular outcomes was nothing less than a new payment method. The credit card, which for decades was the triumphant symbol of money made intangible, is gradually being replaced by mobile payment systems. The figures are enough to make your head spin: the 500 million users in 2010 have grown to more than 2 billion worldwide, representing more than 2 trillion payment transactions. Services sold via SMS, payment using NFC, merchandise sold over mobile devices, money transfers, ticket sales, digital content sales…
Some are predicting that with m-commerce we are entering a new era of mercantile capitalism, so much so that we need a Fernand Braudel to analyse the effects of the spread of mobile stores on this new stage of globalised trade, at a time when we ourselves no longer know where the centre ends and the outside begins.@
My morning wait for the streetcar is made a little shorter by those new stations whose walls are covered in screens: screens showing traffic news and weather forecasts, touch screens for performing searches and commercials that I can interact with over my mobile. And if I look beyond, the vista is a troubling mix of unmoving locations and moving pictures being carried along by the hundreds of video screens that light up public buildings, billboards and boutiques.
A tangible manifestation of a city that’s gone digital, the screens have taken over our streets. After being lit up by electrical lamps at the start of the 20th century, our towns have gradually been papered over by innumerable screens, both public and private, truly the new city lights. While street lamps and public transport hauled cities out of the shadows and the ways of the past, digital screens and networks opened up a new dimension for citizens the places they dwell. Far from being only virtual, they have redrawn the city, its neighbourhoods and even its horizons. For me, who has always thought of the city as a large open book, wandering through this urban digital revolution is a constant source of delight. Like when Haussmann opened a still medieval Paris up with his broad boulevards, our town councillors are wrapping our neighbourhoods in clouds of data and interconnected things.
It took a long period of trials and the perseverance of a few pilot cities to get there. The first requirement, of course, was to have ultra-fast broadband networks, both fixed and mobile, that were capable of supporting new, increasingly bandwidth-hungry services. The major capitals of the world were the pioneers in many instances, but a lot of smaller cities also proved tremendously innovative, like Pau in France and Salerno in Italy, Oulu in Sweden and Songdo in South Korea. But the issue of the digital divide is with us still: back in 2010, only 40% of French towns with a population of less than 100,000 had their own website.
All aspects of city life are being affected: travellers can find their way thanks to augmented reality applications, drivers send back real-time information on traffic, parking spaces and how much parking garages are charging. Those with visual disabilities can count on their mobile and their digital cane to better navigate through their environment. And even artists have taken hold of this new virtual urban space, drawing part of their tag on a wall and the rest in an app which, once combined on a mobile screen, will deliver their message. All citizens now have access to digital tools that augment their real city life.
Cities are at the peak of a mountain of data of which they only gradually took stock and control: concerning education, healthcare, jobs, entertainment, transportation, government, etc. It’s worth remembering that the first to become interested in this data back in the 1990s were mapping companies like Teleatlas, and the Mormons who travelled through towns to digitise information used by fire fighters and town registrar offices. Starting in 2009, a city like San Francisco opened up more than 150 databases to deliver some 30 iPhone apps, allowing users to locate buses, get a restaurant’s health inspection score, find out actual crime stats for their neighbourhood, the names of their neighbours, etc.
All information that can be geolocated and associated with a Google Map. Some saw in this transparent access to information the advent of the ideal city, while striking fear in the hearts of others. Not always without reason. It is said that, once a year, an anonymous Internet user, known only as Jack the Screener, seizes control of all of the screens in London for a few minutes time, round about midnight… @
It’s hard to believe but, after having cried wolf for years because millions of internet users were descending on the vast plains of the Web, like a horde of Huns, to pillage the work of artists, some actually discovered that the way out of this impasse was… to collect money from people. Of course, the idea is no longer just to sell them mp3s which can be accessed freely and legally, but to give access to a slice of their favourite artists’ universe in a variety of ways: some familiar ways like concerts or licensed products, and other more innovative ones.
One new form, which helped shore up the various revenue streams that currently help finance musicians and others, and which emerged back in the 2000s, was crowdfunding. A solid portmanteau world that encompasses several realities but actually refers to an age-old practice, i.e. raising funds to finance a new project by appealing to the masses, asking for a large number of small contributions. This is clearly nothing new: subscription, which was a very common system used throughout the 19th century to finance the construction of monuments or the production of works of art, corresponds to a democratised form of patronage which had been the dominant means of financing the arts up until then.
Back in the 1990s, a host of music lovers pooled their resources to buy the works of up-and-coming bands, based on the principle of shared property or each member of the club having their turn with the canvass. But nothing compares to what the digital network made possible. It was the power of the Net that gave new impetus to existing practices thanks to easy access to a great many networks, the ability to spread a message swiftly over social networks and the use of micropayment tools. Sometimes called co-investment, the reaches of crowdfunding seem limitless and applicable to every domain. Music kick-started the trend back in 1997, taking paths already trodden by indie labels, with a US tour by British group Marillion that was financed by funds raised from fans on the Web. Cinema followed in 2004, with the production of the film, “Demain la Veille” which was achieved through a subscription scheme organised by the young French production company, Guyom Corp.
Things started to move much more quickly after that: a host of music production sites like Sellaband in the Netherlands and MyMajorCompany in France, came into existence. We saw the publication of books and comics with Sandawe, citizen journalism with Spot.Us. And more general interest sites also emerged, like Kickstarter out of New York and Indiegogo.com in San Francisco, which helped finance a whole host of projects, from dance and theatre to painting and photography. Business models and the motives behind the new modes of financing gave birth to services that combined the two initial models to varying degrees. On the one side, crowdfunding lent its support to nascent projects, the only reward being the satisfaction of having been there at the birth of an artistic adventure, but which could also extend to a greater variety of rewards such as collector’s editions and objects, invitations to meet the author, passes to a concert, etc. On the other side was a more capitalistic bent of crowdfunding, carrying a financial incentive, i.e. a hope of future revenue, akin to buying stock, but with a slice of soul as an extra dividend.
After a pioneer era which brought with it myriad separate initiatives, in all parts of the globe and all different fields, things became more professional and businesses were gradually organised. The more structured labels and production houses did not want to see this gravy train leave the station and took control of existing sites, or created their own thanks to crowdfunding. This past year, I helped to fund young reporter’s investigation that was sponsored by the newspaper, “Le Monde,” as well as a fashion show by a young designer and added my two cents to the production budget for Philippe Katerine’s latest album, a very modest contribution to helping get him back on stage after too long a time in the wilderness.
Pirates have always operated on the fringes of society, eliciting both fear and fascination. They were a small band of mercenaries who’d cut their ties with the law, and were willing to do anything. And it could never be otherwise, could it? We couldn’t possibly imagine a largely pacified society where a large portion of citizens could indeed be called pirates? But, oddly enough, this is exactly what’s been happening for close to twenty years now, from the time the first music files showed up in MP3 format on Napster back in 1993, and on through the very gradual creation of legal services and catalogues that set the terms and obligations for all parties concerned. “We’re all pirates!” This simple statement reveals all of the system’s weaknesses.
Of course, from its very inception, the Web has been synonymous with sharing and openness and a certain revolt against restrictions. Much in the same spirit as back in the 1970s, long before the Internet was born, when young anti-institutional technophiles invented phreaking (a contraction of freak, free and phone) whose goal was as much to be able to call for free as to show off their perfect knowledge of carriers’ telephone systems. A movement that has carried on through to this day, moving into new areas, apace with online innovation, a balancing act of prowess and delinquency. True pirates, those who want to get rich quick on the wrong side of the law, and who are rarely caught, existed before and still exist today.
So what’s changed? A newfound degree of maturity for the Web whose ever shifting nature remains unchanged, but where a sizeable portion of illicit practices have now been relegated to the ranks of fads of the past. The fact that, in both the digital and the real world, there are laws and best practices, rights and duties, is the very least that we’d expect. But achieving this balance was a long and difficult struggle between opposing forces, fighting to have people respect copyright and for the other side to allow fair use. After users and ISPs had got their hands on content, regulators started to listen to broadcasters and copyright holders and, starting in 2010, many of them began introducing a set of regulations ranging from warning to prosecution. New Zealand was a pioneer here, introducing legislation back in 2008, followed by Ireland, Sweden and Taiwan in early 2009, and later South Korea, France, the UK, Belgium and many others.
The main advantage of these new “Hadopi” laws was undoubtedly their ability to trigger often lively debate between the various sides. In the meantime, we witnessed an endless cycle of authorities trying to catch up to Internet users who were never short of solutions for getting around any regulatory measures they imposed. Users began turning away from peer-to-peer sites like BitTorrent and eDonkey, which were the first to be targeted by the new laws, and migrated to sites offering real time streaming, making a global smash hit of the once obscure Hong Kong-based site, Megavideo. And geeks flocked to dedicated platforms like Usenet and Demoid, while the more underground users opted for destinations like Pando and Waste, micro networks where exchanges are fully secured and invisible to the outside. On the one side we have a majority of users looking for simple solutions like streaming and, on the other, a technically savvy minority who’s always up on the latest solution for masking their IP address (VPN, proxies, etc.) and so preserving their anonymity.
More and more people began to think that we needed to have a clearer and more relaxed economic framework. If the global licence, which is the ultimate embodiment of this need for transparency, still doesn’t exist, similar systems have gradually been taking hold. Users can now subscribe to an offer which, for a set fee, gives them access to a broad array of services which include video, print media, music and literature. And it’s all legal!
“It is no longer the distribution windows but rather reception modes that shape the media landscape. When a film is released, it has to be available everywhere, very quickly, to be able to benefit from ad campaigns and maximum exposure on all screens.”
When we were young, we had to deal with a certain degree of scarcity which, although it could lead to some frustration, also helped to whet our appetites and fuel our dreams. The latest film from Disney could only be seen in the cinema at Christmastime and only in morsels – always the same ones – the rest of the year on our TV screens. These fleeting and much-loved images filled our imagination, and we had to wait until we were adults before we were able to see these movies again, by which time they’d lost some of their mystery. We also had to wait for a new system of TV broadcasting rights to emerge, and a new video economy that created a coherent and very profitable distribution system, for the major studios and distributors to come around to delivering their products over these new media.
It was on the TV in fact that the idea of a distribution sequence gradually took shape. As the television became ubiquitous in people’s homes in the 1960s, set against the simultaneous and steady decline in attendance in movie theatres, broadcasters agreed to wait a long time before airing films on TV. For five years in France, for as long as TV was publicly-owned and there were only a few channels to choose from. It was the arrival of VCRs in the home that forced the government to get involved in changing the rules in the early 1980s.
The technological and industrial developments gradually refined the system and made it more complex. In 2005, people had to wait six months between a film’s release in theatres and its release on DVD, 33 weeks for it to become available in VoD, 9 months on TV in pay-per-view, 12 months on pay-TV and 24 months for it to be shown on a free-to-air channel. This wonderfully, entirely French order of things, structured by the Law and codified in the European Union in the late 1980s, had a loose counterpart in the United States where distribution windows were governed by contracts, negotiated on a film-by-film basis by the interested parties.
Whatever system was used, stakeholders were forced to adapt very quickly, round about 2010, to the new scheme of things that was created by the digital revolution. From then on, distribution windows were negotiated directly by the industry’s representative bodies, without government involvement. The first concession, after years of debate, was to make the timeline more flexible, shortening it by two months and simplifying it, which included allowing simultaneous releases on VoD and DVD. The new system had only just been put into place when the way people actually watched movies forced a further rethink: a growing percentage of the population had already experienced access to a steady stream videos and TV programmes outside the grid, which completely altered there relationship to content. Like with music before it, users were quick to adapt their viewing habits to the possibilities opened up by new forms of time-shifted viewing on the many screens of all sizes that were now available to them.
They were well ahead of the legal solutions that took some time to get going. The Megavideo website was to video what Napster had been to music: an illegal service that became hugely popular with users thanks to a huge selection of content that was easy to access, and which became available soon after it was initially released/aired, accessible in streaming and, of course, for free… Even filmmakers themselves contributed to the trend with a growing number of experiments aimed at breaking down the old system: in 2010, Jean-Luc Godard broke the law by making his film, “Socialisme” available in VOD the same day it showed at Cannes, and two days before it was released in cinemas.
The old distribution sequence was soon dismantled, or at least it became invisible to most users. What is available on TV and other distribution platforms has by now adapted to users’ habits, and media companies now have a free and a paid offer, and it is no longer the distribution windows but rather reception modes that shape the media landscape. When a film is released, it has to be available everywhere, very quickly, to be able to benefit from ad campaigns and maximum exposure on all screens, from the most sophisticated cinema to a tiny handheld device. When a TV series is programmed, the network that owns the rights to it must be able to capitalize on its first airing on catch-up TV and on any licensed products. The bywords today are exclusivity, special events, appointment viewing and brand equity. Despite which, time has not been abolished and distributors have had to learn to manage, monetize and make their catalogue accessible to viewers by fine tuning the principles of handling what Chris Anderson coined “the long tail” back in 2004.@