By Ashley Turing
The way we engage with content is changing. In a little over 10 years, we’ve gone from Blockbuster video —remember the days of VHS and “Who taped over the wedding with the football?” — to Subscription and Netflix Video-On-Demand (SVOD the “S” is for subscription). There’s no question that access to content has improved, but we are beginning to see new problems with the digital entertainment model. The centralised internet behemoths are replicating many of Hollywood’s bad old practices that exploit through a lack of transparency. We have come to accept this behaviour as normal, but not for much longer. Today we now have the technology to help change the dynamic.
Entertainment is a powerful societal force. Great scenes in films and catchphrases from TV shows are part of our cultural fabric, collective consciousness and personal frames of reference. Entertainment guides our culture, our values and, if you believe some Trekkies, our future. No disrespect to Trekkies. I’m a closet one myself.
This blog examines the future of entertainment and the learnings we can use to make that future decentralised, better and fairer. I’ve broken it down into what I term the ‘ages’ of the internet, on the basis that the profound change in our relationship with content has been driven by the progression of that technology.
Web 1.0: the birth of the hyperlink and email
Before 2005 (roughly) the internet was a slow and cumbersome beast. We’d crank up our modems and wait.
For those of you who were there, this will bring back memories:
For those of you who weren’t, listen and wonder at our patience and fortitude.
We lived in a world of progressively loaded images — remember fuzzy-to-clear pic downloads? Gopher and bulletin boards were the norm; receiving emails was an infrequent pleasure. The online universe was positive, optimistic and full of opportunity. Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of an internet built on egalitarian principles had been born.
Streaming media was all but non-existent — bar the likes of Winamp (I was fortunate enough to work with the founder of Winamp – but let’s save that for another blog.
Back in the early days of Netflix, you may remember its DVD postal rental business. It would mail DVDs to you and you would then have to mail them back. You could also buy DVDs. It’s worth remembering that Blockbuster still managed to blow Netflix away at the time (Blockbuster peaked in 2004).
Web 2.0: centralised internet giants dominate markets using your information
My background is in computer science/artificial intelligence (AI). The reason AI wasn’t a mainstream proposition when I studied it was because you needed to process a mountain of data to make machines seem intelligent. The truth is that computers are dumb. To make a computer appear intelligent, it needs a considerable amount of processing power (CPUs) to compute and match algorithms (patterns) against huge sets of data. To figure out key features — the things that really matter — it has to process a lot of patterns. And I mean a lot.
Information is the key to our markets. As human beings, it is the most valuable commodity we possess. Prior to 2005 (roughly), cloud computing didn’t exist. Networked “big data” hadn’t really been invented. Google was actually a pioneer in this field with the launch of the Google File System, which stores and processes data across multiple machines.
With ever-faster internet connection speeds, along with unlimited data storage and processing power (‘big data’) available at giant data centres, we are now in the age of Web 2.0. But we are also facing its less attractive consequences.
Web 2.0 also saw the rise of Amazon, Netflix, Facebook and ‘big data’. What we have today is AI used over huge data sets to manipulate markets and dominate industries. Moore’s law — which posits that overall computer processing power doubles every two years — remains true. The tech giants have taken advantage of it. They have hooked up the old AI theories to a network the machines powerful enough and with enough storage capability to imitate intelligence. Intelligence they then use to ‘help’ you into thinking you want to buy what they want to sell you.
Web 3.0: the decentralised future of entertainment
Web 2.0 is all about centralised trust. You hand over trust in the form of your data to centralized corporations in return for services. We have no option but to trust these centralized companies —internet overloads— because they hold the power. In the entertainment industry, they dial out creativity in exchange for your money. They are building Hollywood within a centralized system, and replicating the “Hollywood Exec’s” bad old ways with algorithms.
Is there a solution?
I believe there is, which is the reason I founded LiveTree. Our mission is to create a fair, transparent, community-powered film, TV and content network. I’d like to say here that I dedicated LiveTree to Aaron Swartz, the late, great computer activist. I’ll be writing another blog to explain how Aaron’s spirit lives on in our operation.
Now the technology is finally here to meet the challenge. It’s called blockchain. No longer do you need to hand over your life and security to a centralised entity in return for the content and services you need to survive in our complex, connected world. Decentralised systems are a way of creating peer-to-peer trust. They enable you to create a contract with someone without the need for a third-party — a Netflix, a Facebook, a Google — to manage it and, significantly, profit from it. It’s shared, immutable and unchangeable. So it builds confidence, no hiding or dodgy dealing.
At the heart of LiveTree ADEPT (Advanced Decentralised Entertainment Platform for Transparent distribution) is digital-rights management. It enables creators to connect and create contracts (licenses) directly with each other. It’s a genuine once-in-a-generation paradigm shift. With ADEPT, you control what gets made, rather than Hollywood, Netflix or one of the traditional content gatekeepers. You then reap the rewards from that content, as well as the community you have created to help realise it. You are in control of the algorithms. Better and better, the whole process is completely transparent and open source. And you earn from entertainment’s digital token — LiveTree Seed — which moves the control from centralized powers to you.
In other words, you get to be part of how the content gets created which generates a community, you get to control, your profit and your future.