The biggest challenges for governance/regulation created by growth of the big data market : Interview with Hal VARIAN, Chief Economist at Google
Chief Economist at Google;
Emeritus professor at the University
of California, Berkeley
in three departments: business, economics, and information management
C&S: What are the biggest challenges for governance/regulation created by growth of the big data market? Are there big differences between the US/Chinese and European approaches to big data opportunities?
Hal VARIAN: There are policy issues relating to data access and control that arise constantly. This generates a lively debate, to say the least. As an economist, I would like to see serious benefit-cost analysis guide regulatory policy.
What are the most important skills sets for those who need to make sense of results of big data analytics?
Statistics and machine learning are most obvious. But in order to put analysis to work, communication skills are critically important. To be effective, a data analyst needs to turn data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into action. You can't do this without communication.
What are the biggest opportunities for business and are businesses able to make effective use of big data to improve their margins?
As in every business, it is imperative to understand your customer. When you can draw on computer mediated transactional data, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of the customers' needs than was previously the case.
What has big data analytics to learn from mainstream econometrics and what can big data analytics contribute to mainstream econometrics?
Econometrics can draw on some of the powerful techniques of predictive analytics that have been developed by the machine learning community. These tools are particularly helpful when dealing with data involving nonlinearities, interactions, and thresholds.
Econometrics, on the other hand, has focused on causal inference from its very early days. Techniques such as instrumental variables, regression discontinuity, and difference-in-differences have been widely used in econometrics but, to date, have not been used in the machine learning community.
Finally, the statistical field of experimental design will be valuable to both communities, as computer mediated transactions enable true randomized treatment-control experiments, which are the gold standard for causal inference.
What should be added to standard US Ph.D. programs in economics to make the students big data literate?
There are now very good textbooks, online tutorials, and tools that make it relatively easy to put together a course on machine learning. In addition virtually all computer science departments and many statistics departments offer such courses.
Hal R. VARIAN is the Chief Economist at Google. He started in May 2002 as a consultant and has been involved in many aspects of the company, including auction design, econometric, finance, corporate strategy and public policy. He is also an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley in three departments: business, economics, and information management. He received his S.B. degree from MIT in 1969 and his MA and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 1973. Professor Varian has published numerous papers in economic theory, econometrics, industrial organization, public finance, and the economics of information technology.
The Communications & Strategies No. 97 "Big Data : Economic, business & policy challenges" is now available !
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Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 96
Interview with Jean-Louis MISSIKA, Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of urban planning
Conducted by Yves Gassot, CEO, IDATE-DigiWorld Institute
C&S: The Smart City concept is often criticized for seeking new markets for digital technology rather than tackling the phenomena that make the management of our cities increasingly complex. What is your view?
Jean-Louis MISSIKA: I do not think it is a fair criticism. Digital technologies have undeniably created the conditions for important changes in our ways of living, inhabiting and consuming. They are now part of our everyday lives and, surely, their impact will increasingly spread throughout the multiple ways we, as humans, interact.
Beyond what they create as opportunities for individuals, digital technologies are fundamental for cities – and among them the city of Paris. Urban systems are confronted with major challenges on the economic, social and environmental fronts. Energy transition, and more generally the management of scarce resources, climate change and the biodiversity challenges drive us to analyze all the solutions available now and in the future to build a more sustainable city - the city of tomorrow. Digital technologies and, in particular, their potential in terms of coordination and rational use of scarce resources, are high on the policy agenda. This is not simply to create a market for them; this is about using all the possibilities offered by technology.
I definitely think it can be a win – win development for both the city and the companies if these firms are working with those involved in the challenges of the city like urban planners and system operators.
Additionally, we are witnessing a boom of young, innovative companies and startups, but also the citizens themselves – both from Paris and outside – who develop digital solutions for the city. This is clear evidence of what is at stake here: it is for local authorities to allow the digital revolution to spread in the society so that innovation does not only occur through large companies but also thanks to citizens' initiatives.
C&S: How would you rate the strategy of Paris, using a broad comparison between the very holistic, top-down approach of projects emerging in the context of new towns and in Asia, and the more bottom-up approach that seems to be primarily based on using multiple data repositories ('open data') associated with urban systems?
J.-L. M: We are definitely leaning towards the "bottom up" approach to building Paris as a smart city.
Collective intelligence is an effective way to source the best ideas. And it does work well in Paris in part because we provide people with the appropriate means to implement projects: workspaces, coaching, financing, public spaces to experiment… and data.
This is one of the pillars of a smart and sustainable city: a place where the technology is used for people, by people, to include them in the life of the city and in the process of public decisions.
Let me refer to a recent project. We have worked over the last 6 months since the election to reach a greater transparency and citizen involvement in the City operations, by creating a platform for the development, discussion and adoption of community projects. These are chosen by the Parisians and are financed through a participatory budget. 5% of the total investment program, which represents 426 million euros, has been flagged for programs chosen directly, through vote, by the Parisians.
Within the next months, Parisians will even be able to share the benefit of their expertise and creativity by suggesting investment ideas directly.
Another way to involve people is crowdsourcing. We have developed the "DansMaRue" mobile application which Parisians use to signal local problems and even identify spots for "urban greening" (buildings, walls, squares, abandoned urban places). It is this type of exchanges with Parisians we want to implement to make our City better.
This is a genuine urban revolution in the making: the role of local governments of world-cities is to understand, support and leverage the benefits of this revolution. European cities, I believe, have a major role to play in leading this transformation. Their governance is well geared towards citizen involvement and this should alleviate the risks of the "systemic city" or the "cybernetic city".
C&S: Do you have any models or at least references to guide your project for Paris?
J.-L. M: Many interesting models exist throughout the world and we are discussing extensively with many cities facing the same challenges.
That being said, from our discussions we retain one key conclusion: each of these cities has developed its own good practices with its own cultural frame. I think there is no single model of smart city and it would be ineffective to copy-and-paste alien models or ready-to-use solutions in a fast-changing environment.
We have our own model based on an iterative approach that uses successful experiments in Paris. We have been working for several years to make Paris a strong city in the digital sector and a breeding ground for innovation. I would say that over the last 10 years or so we have created the conditions for the emergence and development of a strong ecosystem. Thanks to all these efforts, Paris has experienced a lot in recent years and is now a world leader in innovation and most certainly the top European city.
There are well-known examples of successes such as Velib ', Autolib', Paris Wifi, among other experiments such as heating a residential building thanks to the energy produced by data centers, data vizualisations of the Paris transport system, smart street furniture, … Many of those locally-grown success stories are helping to build our own project of smart city and to deploy these experiments on a larger scale as standards for the city of tomorrow.
Paris is actually creating international benchmarks for smart city, though it is not as recognized as it should be. Through calls for innovative projects led by the Paris Region Lab at the initiative of the City, we facilitate the emergence of intelligent solutions on subjects as diverse as intelligent street furniture, energy efficiency or assistance home support for seniors. Paris provides entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes with a single territory and open trials. It also runs a network – an open innovation club – that organizes meetings between the largest companies and startups. We are even deploying this initiative in other French cities, at their own request.
C&S: What priority initiatives have been selected for the Smart City project in Paris?
J.-L. M: One billion euros will be invested by 2020 in order to make Paris the international benchmark in innovation related to land use, the participatory democracy, sustainable development, the digital economy and energy transition.
Our smart city approach is threefold: open city (open data), digital city (potential of digital technologies and their application to improve the quality of life of Parisians) and the inventive city (which is built by transversal networks and innovation).
Each of these pillars shall contribute to our 4 main targets.
One of the most important is the food supply because no city in the world is capable of ensuring its food self-sufficiency in the present state of our know-how and our food is responsible for almost 40% of our ecological footprint. We have recently launched a call for projects titled: "Innovative Urban Greening" which consists, among other objectives, in experimenting with the urban agriculture of the future.
Another challenge is the energy of the city. 90% of the energy of the Paris metropolis is provided by fossil fuel or nuclear energy. From a territorial point of view, it is an imported energy. In addition to the on-going effort on renewable energies (with a certain success for geothermal energy), the focus is increasingly on energy recovery. We must go ahead and draw from their hidden resources. These resources are at the core of the circular economy: a waste produced by someone is a resource for someone else.
An example in Paris is the Qarnot Computing start-up which has invented a radiator-computer: by dissipating all the energy consumed by data processors in the form of heat, the Q-rads make it possible to heat free of charge and ecologically any type of building (housing, professional premises, collective buildings) according to the needs of their users. A low rent housing building has been fitted out with these Q.rads radiators: the inhabitants do not have to pay for their heating anymore and their ecological footprint is zero.
The third challenge is urban mobility. This can no longer be dealt with through the option of car versus collective transport. New systems of mobility are emerging: they concern the technology of vehicles (electric cars, rubber-tired tram), but above all the technology of services (rental among individuals, sharing, car-pooling, multi modal applications, etc.), and they often open the way for the emergence of new chains of values and new players.
In Paris, the massive adoption of Autolib' and Velib' shows the power of attraction of sharing and self-service.
Last challenge is planning for the future of urban spaces and architecture. In order to take into account new ways of working, living or trading we need to be able to test multifunction buildings that combine housing, offices, community spaces, show-rooms and services to people. This mixed use on the scale of a building implies more flexible Local Urban Plans and an adaptation of safety rules. The new way of working implies home-office, mobile office, co working and remote working centers. The new way of living requires community spaces in the building, a greater use of roofs, community gardens, shared utility rooms, services to the person, sorting and recycling. New trading methods integrate ephemeral shops, shared showrooms and fablabs.
C&S: Paris as a city, and you in particular, have worked hard to ensure that digital is also an opportunity to redevelop business in Paris, which is threatened to become a purely residential city. What connection do you see between support for start-ups, incubators and nurseries, and a policy of the Smart City type?
J.-L. M: The City of Paris is an innovative city at the forefront of digital technology, as evidenced by the ranking of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The emergence of Silicon Sentier in the heart of Paris in recent years, or important events such as Futur en Seine and the Open World Forum illustrate the growing dynamism of our city in terms of digital innovation.
Notably, in our incubators, many innovations are related to digital technologies. They create value in all areas of the city and aim to serve people in a better way.
As an example, the Moov'in city competition launched in June 2013 by the City of Paris in partnership with the RATP, SNCF, JC Decaux and Autolib' aimed at bringing out new web-based and mobile services focused on mobility in Paris and the Ile de France region. One hundred ideas were generated through this process; seven of them were awarded a prize. Among them, the Paris Moov' solution is a route calculation application that integrates all public transport modes available in the Ile de France region and suggestions of activities once arrived at destination.
Some incubators and clusters that we support are directed specifically to the city and urban services (energy, transport, water, logistics, etc.).
This is for example the case of the Paris Innovation Massena incubator where we work with large corporations like SNCF or Renault. We help them and they accompany us to build our Smart City project.
In addition, the creation of incubators or Fab Lab continues with determination and ambition displayed, particularly with the MacDonald converted warehouse or the Halle Freyssinet, the future world's largest incubator (1000 start-up companies). New places at the forefront of innovation combining incubators, coworking spaces will continue to be created and its ecosystem of innovation will be internationalized. This is the only way for Paris to be in the top attractive and competitive cities in the world.
C&S: How do you pilot a 'Smart City' project? (Is it through a task force outside the main city services? Or through a cross-functional structure involving all the services?) How did you structure management of the Paris project?
J.-L. M: The smart city is a cross-cutting subject, which means we have no other way to do it than keeping good interaction among the administrative units.
All large cities are confronted with the issue of finding the appropriate scale of governance and new governance tools. The model of organization of local administrations is outdated. The large vertically-organised departments (urban planning, roadways, housing, architecture, green spaces) are facing the challenges of intelligent networks, project management, citizen participation that require a much more cross-cutting and horizontal coordination.
Paris has historically been organized in large vertical services to deal, for example with roads, architecture, urban planning and so on. For this reason, we have chosen to address the question of the Smart City within the City of Paris through a steering committee composed of elected officials and a cross-cutting taskforce driven at the General Secretariat - the body that oversees all directions.
This "smart city" mission is a project accelerator. Its aim is to raise awareness on this subject within and throughout the services but also to manage the relationship with our key partners of major urban infrastructure. It supports the deputy mayors on each of their missions and brings global thinking to structure a coherent overall strategy in the multiplicity of initiatives and concrete actions led by all the services.
C&S: On a more mundane level, the deployment of digital applications in the city is also organized on the basis of a telecommunications infrastructure (fiber access, 4G, WiFi, ...). Are you satisfied with the existing equipment and deployments underway at the initiative of private operators? How do you cooperate with them particularly in light of concerns over radio transmitters?
J.-L. M: While the City of Paris has no formal jurisdiction over this subject, we consider it is our role to ensure that all Parisians can access clear and transparent information on the deployment of base stations, and to take their concerns into account while ensuring the development of new technologies. This led us to sign a mobile telephony charter in 2003 with the telecom operators. His latest release in 2012 has set maximum exposure levels to radiofrequency fields and clear procedures for consultation with residents.
Jean-Louis MISSIKA is deputy mayor of Paris in charge of urbanism, architecture, projects of Greater Paris, economic development and attractiveness. From 2008 to 2014, he was deputy mayor of Paris in charge of innovation, research and universities. Prior to his local mandates, his professional career included various managerial positions in the public and private sectors.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No.95
Conducted by Yann MÉNIÈRE
Professor of economics at MINES ParisTech,
head of the Mines-Telecom Chair on "IP and Markets for Technology", France
C&S: Could you please introduce yourself and the organisation you are working for/have been working for?
Ruud PETERS: I first joined the Philips Intellectual Property & Standards (IP&S) organisation in 1977, with a background in physics. After taking various positions in the technology and consumer electronics sectors, I was appointed CEO of Philips IP&S in 1999. There I have been responsible for managing Philips' worldwide IP portfolio creation and value capturing activities, and responsible for technical and formal standardization activities in the fields of consumer lifestyle, healthcare, lighting and technology until my retirement at the end of 2013.
I remain affiliated to Philips as a Strategy & IP adviser reporting to the board member responsible for Strategy and Innovation. I also represent Philips in the board of various companies, which I created or in which I took a share as Philips in the past. Beside my Philips affiliation, I devote about half of my time to other governing and consultancy roles as board member of a number of international companies and organisations related to IP.
C&S: What is your/your organisation's approach to IP and patents from a business perspective?
R.P.: Philips has an integrated approach to IP asset management. This includes trademark, domain names and designs, while they are often treated separately in other companies. Philips also has a proactive view of the role of IP as a creator of value. In this view, building an IP portfolio should not be a goal per se, but a lever to support growth and profitability. Accordingly, Philips IP&S is closely involved in the business decisions being made around IP rights. It is responsible for the creation and management of these rights, but also anti-counterfeiting strategy, financial aspects of licensing agreements and formal standards-setting issues.
C&S: What is your opinion about the role of the patent system in the economy, and the benefits it can bring to the society?
R.P.: Today more than ever, the economy needs people who are prepared to take the financial risk to invest in new ideas and innovative activities that contribute to welfare. Those people need a reward for the risk they take, and it is the role of the patent system to provide such incentives.
This incentive function of patents should be understood in a broad meaning. Patents are highly flexible instruments that open a broad set of strategic choices. Recouping investments by securing an exclusive use of inventions is certainly one of these options, but patents can also be used more proactively. They can be opened up for use by others though licensing programmes or the creation of joint ventures, creating valuable economic activity in the process. In other words, they are the necessary currency for the exchange of ideas and for collaboration.
C&S: Recent years have seen frequent patent battles and controversy in the digital area. Is there something specific to this technology field with respect to patents and IP?
R.P.: Yes and no. On one hand, the digital area has indeed some specific features with respect to patents and IP. It is first subject to a continuous trend towards higher IP density, with many devices each embodying a growing number of patented technologies. It is moreover organized around a limited number of platform products – such as operating systems– that enable devices to interoperate. These platforms are subject to strong network effects: they become more attractive the more users and the more available compatible products (such as apps in the case of smart phones). They can also generate strong economies of scale in manufacturing. As a result, the competition between platforms is “tippy”: only a few companies that manage to quickly capture enough market shares can eventually establish a profitable business. Against this background it is not surprising that companies compete fiercely to promote their platforms. This includes inter alia a heavy use of patents in the first step. One can yet expect patent battles to recede once market positions will be stabilized.
On the other hand, similar evolutions may take place in other sectors – such as the automotive, healthcare or pharmaceutical industries – where digital technologies are becoming pervasive. In the future, I expect products in these sectors to reach substantially higher and in some sectors, like automotive, similar levels of patent density as in the IT industry. Patents may then become a battleground of the competitive process in these areas too. Patent battles are indeed an inevitable consequence of translating innovative merit into a competitive advantage or, conversely, a disadvantage for the company that pays royalties for borrowing a competitor's technology. They are one part of the market forces that eventually shape industries.
C&S: What are the key challenges or trends that the patent system is currently facing?
R.P.: The key challenge for the patent system is to raise the bar for the quality of patents. The last decades have seen a sharp increase of patent filings around the world, inducing backlogs in patent offices and a drop in patent quality. Based on results of recent court decisions and inter parties reviews in the USA, it is estimated by some experts that about 50% of all patents can be assumed to be invalid. As a result, one cannot assume nowadays anymore that a granted patent is a valid right.
This legal uncertainty fuels lawsuits, but also criticism of the patent system. I think that both can be avoided with enhanced patent quality. To raise the bar, better searches for prior art should be a priority. While various other regulations are currently being discussed, this is the most obvious and effective way to improve the patent system.
Innovative, market-based means can help patent offices to fight the abuse of low-quality patents. I am thinking, for example, of crowd sourcing based searches for prior art to help defendants against assertion of low-quality patents. Article One Partners is a good example of a company providing exactly this service.
C&S: Where are the main differences in the patents/IPR thinking and practice between both sides of the Atlantic, and between the Western world and Asia?
R.P.: The basics of the system – that is, patent law – are the same everywhere. Hence there are no significant differences in the way companies obtain IP rights. However, important differences remain at the level of the judicial system, in the way national systems are operated.
The U.S. patent system is more judiciary. It has a very complex judicial system, with high costs of using patents. By contrast, the European system is more balanced. It is less costly for its users despite the persistence of national patent systems. I am confident that this system will further improve in future years with the creation of the unitary patent and patent court.
Asian countries are modernising their patent systems, although not all of them are at the same stage. This is a very important evolution, especially as regards China. As of today, legal uses of IP remain less developed in this country than in the Western world. Local companies and IP institutions are less experienced, but they are catching up rapidly. I expect China to be at the same level as Europe in about five to ten years.
C&S: What will be the most important developments regarding patents for the coming 5-10 years?
R.P.: The evolution of accounting rules towards a better financial valuation of IP should be a major development in future years. Currently, these rules tend to focus on the cash benefits of licensing income while there are many other ways in which IP assets create value in the knowledge economy. IP makes it possible to protect products and markets from competition, enter new markets, facilitate deal making or create freedom to operate and thus enable higher and more profits or less cost. Because such uses of IP rights do not appear explicitly on the P&L account and the value of the IP portfolio is not on the balance sheet, companies ignore the real value of their intangibles. In practice, this means that IP assets are dealt with at the IP department only, while they should be considered as strategic assets at the board level.
Financial valuation is necessary to convince corporate executives of the real value of intellectual assets, just as for other important assets on a company's balance sheet. This requires new international accounting frameworks that better reflect the true economic importance of intangibles. This is a challenging task for the next ten to fifteen years. Eventually, better accounting rules will facilitate IP recognition within companies, but also in society. The way IP works in the knowledge economy is still not well understood. We still apply the rules of the traditional hardware based economy to the knowledge economy. As an example, courts still calculate royalties as a percentage of the cost price of products, while they should consider the value that IP brings to the product. A new framework will be needed for financial, legal, tax and competition rules in the global, knowledge economy.
I also expect the maturation of markets for IP to be an important development for future years. The current system of bilateral negotiations of licensing deals is quite primitive. It is especially opaque and inefficient when the same patent needs to be licensed to multiple companies, with replicated costs of due diligence, negotiation and monitoring for each deal. A transition towards a more transparent and efficient organization of IP markets is possible, just as happened for stock markets in the past. With market-based pricing of unit licence rights, based on centralised due diligence, the creation of international IP exchange IPXI in Chicago is for instance an important step in this direction.
- Ruud PETERS was appointed Chief Intellectual Property Officer (CIPO) of Royal Philips in 1999, in which position he was responsible for managing the worldwide IP portfolio, and the technical and formal standardisation activities of Philips. In this role, he turned the company's IP department from a cost centre into a successful revenue-generating operation, while at the same time integrating all the different IP activities within various parts of the company into one IP centralised organisation. He further developed and introduced a new concept for intellectual asset management, in which all the different forms of IP are handled together in an integrated manner, and advanced methods and systems used for determining the total return on IP investment by measuring direct and indirect profits. Ruud joined Philips in 1977. He retired from his role as CIPO at the end of 2013, but continues to work for the company as a part-time adviser on strategy and IP matters. He is also a board member of a number of technology /IP licensing /trading companies. Ruud has a background in physics (Technical University Delft, The Netherlands). He was inducted into the IP Hall of Fame in 2010 and in 2014 he received an Outstanding Achievement Award for his lifetime contributions to the field of IP from MIP magazine. He frequently speaks at major international IP conferences and also writes articles regularly for leading IP and business magazines.
- Yann MÉNIÈRE is professor of economics at MINES ParisTech (France) and head of the Mines-Telecom Chair on "IP and Markets for Technology". His research and expertise relate to the economics of innovation, competition and intellectual property. In recent years, he has been focusing more specifically on IP and standards, markets for technology and IP issues in climate negotiations. Besides his academic publications, he produced various policy reports for the European Commission, French government, and other private and public organisations. Outside MINES ParisTech, he teaches the economics of ICT Standards at the Imperial College Business School. He is associated as an economic expert with Microeconomix and Ecorys, two consulting firms specialised respectively in economics applied to law, and public policies.
Conducted by Theon van DIJK, Chief Economist, European Patent Office, Munich, Germany
C&S: Could you please introduce yourself and the Intellectual Property Directorate at DG Market?
Kerstin JORNA: I became Director for Intellectual property Directorate at DG MARKET in 2012. An exciting and challenging job! I work with a team of roughly 50 very dedicated colleagues.
Our job is to make sure that inventors and creators in the Single market are successful on the "inventor trail". Inventors and creators turn ideas into innovation: be it a new "green" technology, a lifesaving drug, or a new film. This requires ideas in the first place. But it also requires good laws, efficient registration procedures, the capacity to leverage capital for developing an idea, a framework for branding, a clear and predictable legal environment for distributing and licensing innovations to consumers and customers, efficient jurisdictions for ensuring respect for rights and investments, trade agreements with third countries that offer a stable and predictable environment for exporting innovation. Intellectual property is not a purpose in itself. It is a tool to stimulate innovation and dissemination of knowledge. My team's role is to calibrate the policy and the single market tools in such way that these objectives are achieved. There is clear evidence, that a well calibrated intellectual property system creates qualified jobs and growth in Europe.
The European legislator is currently discussing our proposals for the reform of the European Trademark system and European rules for Trade secret protection. An action plan on a more linked-up approach for ensuring respect for intellectual property rights was presented a month ago. A Green paper on European rules for non-agricultural indications of origin is under public consultation. And we are also working on the review of our copyright rules. Some 9500 respondents replied to our online consultation and the results were published recently. And of course, there is the implementation of the unitary patent!
C&S: What is your opinion about the role of the patent system in the economy and the benefits it can bring to the society? How do you see the European Commission's role here?
K.J.: Knowledge is the currency of the future. A recent study carried out by OHIM and the EPO provides compelling evidence on the economic importance of intellectual property rights (IPR) in Europe. Patent-intensive industries in Europe contribute to 10% of EU direct employment (22 million) and 14% of EU GDP (€ 1.7 trillion).
Today the patent system in Europe is complex, fragmented and costly. And this is also true for litigation. While big companies might be able to afford the price to validate and defend their patent across multiple jurisdictions, small innovative companies cannot. The Commission and Vice-President Michel Barnier have made the unitary patent package a top priority for the single market. After the landmark political agreement in 2012, we work together with Member States and the European Patent Office to ensure that the unitary patent and the unified patent court will become an attractive option for innovative companies.
C&S: What do you consider to be the main achievements by the European Commission in the area of patents over the past five years?
K.J.: Without a second of doubt: The agreement of the European Parliament and the Member States on the Unitary patent. Unitary patent protection will permit significant cost savings and simplify administrative procedures. In addition, as the single jurisdiction competent for all European patents, the Unified Patent Court will ensure the consistency of judgments, thereby increasing legal certainty. It will also considerably reduce the complexity and cost of patent litigation.
These political decisions now need to translate into reality. We are working together with Member States and the European Patent Office to set up the system for a unitary title that is sufficiently attractive in terms of price and legal certainty, as well as a Court that has the trust of users. The first unitary patent grant in 2015 is possible – if all actors involved collectively continue to deliver on the list of things to do and national parliaments engage the remaining ratification procedures.
C&S: Recent years have seen smart phone patent battles and competition policy scrutiny in the area of electronic communications. How do you see the interplay between IP and the patent system in particular on the one hand, and competition law and enforcement on the other hand?
K.J.: The globalisation of markets and increasing complexity of products with overlapping technology has modified the business environment in certain sectors. Companies have acquired important patent portfolios to safeguard their product lines in a given market segment. This has also led to increasing costs for IPR enforcement and litigation.
As the competition watch dog in the Single Market, the Commission must make sure that companies have a clear understanding on where the dividing line runs between legitimate exercise of intellectual property rights and anti-competitive behaviour.
Standard essential patents are a hot topic. We need clarity for companies that hold standard essential patents, but also for companies that need to use standard essential patents for enhancing innovation. The Samsung and Motorola cases are two recent examples. FRAND license terms should be guaranteed to all market participants. The Commission's intervention has also clarified that a licensee can challenge the validity of the patent object of the licensee agreement at any moment. This is in the public interest.
While competition law enforcement is an effective ex post method to stop anticompetitive behaviours, the Commission is also exploring possible ex ante means to prevent abuses. We are participating in the discussions on guidelines in ETSI and ITU as standard setting organisations.
C&S: What are the key challenges that the patent system is currently facing?
K.J.: We already spoke about the implementation of the unitary patent package. This is not only a challenge for public authorities. It is also a challenge for companies who will have to review their patent strategies and their portfolio policies. Some might be tempted to stay with the old, fragmented and costly system, "because we are used to it and we know it". Still, I hope that the new features of the unitary patent and the unified patent court with a unique combination of international, specialised and multidisciplinary expertise will convince companies to make use of these opportunities in their future innovation strategies. Of course there is no one size fits all and different sectors may see different types of opportunities. However, looking back at the success story of the European Patent Convention, I am confident about the success of the unitary patent "innovation".
Another issue that I see coming to the fore is the question how Intellectual property titles, and patents in particular can leverage capital for further development of the innovation – a recent study called it the "bankable IP's".
And then there are issues around the implications of patent law in biotechnology. We recently created a multidisciplinary expert group to look into this, in the light of the development of recent jurisprudence.
Finally, I also see a need to further explore some basic common features for efficient patent systems globally. Today challenges such as climate change, food security, aging population are global. We need innovation to address these challenges on a global scale. In addition, supply chains for delivering innovation are also increasingly global. WIPO and trade discussions can be instrumental to this.
C&S: Where are the main differences in the IP thinking and practice between both sides of the Atlantic, and between the Western world and Asia?
K.J.: Both the US and the EU increasingly focus on economic evidence as a basis for calibrating their patent systems and its deliveries.
Leaving aside that the EU still is a fragmented market of 28 patent jurisdictions, there are a number of differences in approach. This is true, for example, for the grace period concept, the notion of protected subject matter and the publication of patent applications. Patent quality is a key issue for Europe. We believe in quality patents because they create the right conditions UPstream for bringing innovation to the market. Less is more! Too many low quality patents prompt litigation DOWNstream and stifle innovation because the good patent needs to "weed out" bad patents first.
C&S: What will be the most important developments regarding patents and new technologies in Europe for the coming five to ten years?
K.J.: New technologies have a profound effect on the current economic landscape, shaping the way we live and challenging our traditional framework. The internet of things (i.e. connected cars), big data, 3D printing, synthetic biology and robotics offer us unrivalled opportunities to progress. But they also pose challenges and intellectual property is one of them.
With respect to patents more specifically, I see debate about the delay for obtaining patent protection for inventions for fast developing technologies.
The increasing complexity of new innovative products has prompted the activities of Non-practicing entities, sometimes referred to as patent trolls. In certain cases such single component "hold-up" can delay the bringing to the market of innovative products apart from raising the cost for litigation. Europe, with a different policy on patent examination is less affected than the US and I am confident that the unified Patent Court will permit to contain excesses, should they occur.
Another issue is also linked to complexity. How can we promote "match-making" for different but linked technologies and patents. Our proposal for European trade secret protection is part of the answer, because it gives a solid legal framework to exchange information at an early stage of the innovation process. But there is more to consider.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 95
Kerstin JORNA is a German national. She joined the Commission in 1990 as a civil servant. During the last 20 years Kerstin held various positions in the internal market directorate, amongst others as assistant of the director general as well as in the secretariat general as member of the negotiating team for the Nice treaty. After a stint as commission spokeswoman for regional policy and institutional affairs, Kerstin joined successively the cabinets of Michel Barnier, Günther Verheugen and Jacques Barrot. Kerstin studied law in Bonn, Hamburg and Bruges.
Theon van DIJK is Chief Economist of the European Patent Office, where he is responsible for carrying out economic research in the area of patents and providing general economic advice to support the various EPO activities. Prior to joining the EPO in August 2013, Theon was an economic consultant specialised in competition and regulation matters. He has held senior positions in leading international economic consultancies in London and Brussels, and founded his own consultancy in 2005. Theon has extensive experience in providing expert economic advice to private companies, competition authorities and government organisations. Theon holds an MA and Ph.D. in Economics from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, where he carried out academic research on the economics of patent protection at the UNU-MERIT institute. Theon was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institut D'Économie Industrielle in Toulouse, France. He has published extensively in academic and applied journals in the area of intellectual property, competition policy and regulation.
 Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on the protection of undisclosed know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure (COM/2013/0813 final. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52013PC0813&from=EN
 COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE Towards a renewed consensus on the enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights: An EU Action Plan (COM/2014/0392 final). http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/iprenforcement/action-plan/index_en.htm
 http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/indprop/geo-indications/index_en.htm#maincontentSec1. Proposals for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) no 207/2009 of 26 February 2009 on the Community Trade Mark and for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trade marks (recast) – references COM(2013)161 and COM/2013/162
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94
Conducted by Laurent MICHAUD, IDATE, Montpellier, France
C&S:How do you see the video game industry today?
Alain LE DIBERDER: The industry is facing a deep shift of its main business model. It’s not a problem of overall market size. Even if the macroeconomic environment is rather dull, even if the new mobile market works with very low price levels, most of the firms are able to adapt themselves to the new revenue framework. Instead the main issue is the changes needed in the corporate organizations. Yesterday, AAA products were king and the sales department was king of the AAA market. Today the whole process starting from an idea and ending in an actual consumer needs to be reshaped. Unfortunately marketing, technology and price policy are far more flexible than human behavior.
C&S:Video games are reaching their full potential online with multiplayer or massively multiplayer, social, viral, flash and ubiquitous components. What do these developments inspire for you?
A.L.D: All these technologies are impressive and improving very quickly. But I’m not sure that they actually drive the industry to a new era. Videogamers were “social” from the start, and videogames were “viral” far before Facebook or Tweeter. Even in the Eighties, schools and universities were an effective “social media” in which gamers and game reputations were debated, built and destroyed. And they still are. The new phenomenon is that the “social” dimension is now included in the code. And there are opportunities to make money with it. But the videogame industry, for the moment, is not able to catch the main part of this market, which is dominated by “transversal” companies like Facebook, Twitter, Apple and so on.
C&S:What are the effects of globalization on the creation of content, on the creators?
A.L.D:The videogame industry is probably the first entertainment business being born global. The movie industry was partly global relatively soon (say around 1910), but even today national and regional components remain important. It’s the same for music industry. The reason why the videogame industry is different is quite simple: during the first ten years of its history, there was barely no text inside the games. Remember Pong, Pacman, Space Invaders, or even the first Mario. Without any words the only text to be translated was the cartridge sleeve or the instruction sheet on the arcade cabinet. The need for text and localization only came with PC games in the eighties, but it was too late for local cultures: the industry DNA was definitively global. Even the word “localization” tells the truth. The industry can’t be more global than it was at its birth, and the only thing that could happen in the future is less globalization, not more. But it probably won’t.
C&S:Hardware vs. software: are home consoles set to disappear in favor of streamed games? More generally, won't hardware be reduced to a "stupid” screen?
A.L.D:I don’t believe that the console industry holds a strong future. Consoles are expensive, non-durable and challenged pieces of hardware. Competition from set-top boxes and mobile devices is stronger and stronger. But hardware won’t be reduced to a stupid screen. There is a bright future for hardware if you compare the specifications (and price) of a present smartphone to those of a home computer or a home console from ten years ago. Hardware is more and more smart, not stupid. In fact the new hardware standards and the telecommunication networks live together in an ecosystem in which smart networks need smart home equipments, not dumb.
C&S:Oculus Rift, Google Glass, holographic technology ... what do you think the next disruptive gaming experience will be?
A.L.D:I can’t see such a thing as a disruptive technology in the videogame history. Technology is an additive process in the videogame industry not a subtractive one. For instance when the home console began, in 1974, the arcade market didn’t disappear. The computer games started slowly at the end of the seventies and added their sales to the console market. When the PC market was mature, in the beginning of the nineties, the console market exploded too in the 16 bits era. Online games began to be popular before the web. I remember having wasted many hours playing Microprose Grand Prix on line in 1992 with a 14.4kbs modem. Today the online market is strong, but more than 20 years after, between 60 and 80% of the overall market, depending on what you consider as a videogame « sale » is still offline. We could also think of 3D games, Virtual reality helmets, streamed games and so on. But the truth is that during 40 years many technologies have been introduced, many have failed (especially with 3D, beware Oculus!) and many have contributed to the Harlequin suit in which the videogame industry is dressed.
C&S:What are the issues in which the French industry still needs to progress?
A.L.D:There are French developers, French magazines, excellent French videogame schools, some French companies, but the “French industry” doesn’t exist. Of course there is Ubi Soft. But Ubi began to develop games in Asia or Morocco 25 years ago, and regarding the workforce, is more a Canadian company than a French one. Vivendi invested in big US companies but they remained American companies reporting to French shareholders. And Vivendi sold the main part of the shares to Activision. Infogrames bought many British and American companies and the glorious brand of Atari, but it failed. From the beginning, the golden era of Ere Informatique or Loriciels, the French (little) companies have always sold more than 80% of their products in the world market. Almost all the titles, such as “Another World” or “Alone in the Dark” were in English, even in the French market. Many French guys have succeeded in the videogames industry, but as it’s a global industry, they were and still are involved in a non-national world. A national videogame industry is a nonsense, except maybe in Asia.
C&S:What remains for us to (re) invent in terms of gaming experience?
A.L.D:Maybe the next frontier could be the physical experience. The Wiimote and the Ki-nect were a first step, and now the “connected object” is blooming. It will probably take time, but I feel that the gamification of personal care is a strong trend.
Alain LE DIBERDER holds a Ph.D. in Economics. After advising French Minister of Culture Jack Lang (1989-1991), he moved to France Télévision under CEO Hervé Bourges (1991-1994) and then on to Canal + as Head of New Programmes (1994-2000), while he contributed to establishing several landmark cultural portals. He created Allociné TV, a channel devoted entirely to cinema, in 2010, and joined Arte as Head of Programmes on 1 January 2013. He has published several books and papers on digital technology and the media.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94, 2nd Quarter 2014
Video game business models and monetization
Daniel KAPLAN, Business Developer at Mojang
Conducted by Peter ZACKARIASSON, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
C&S: Minecraft is, by any standard, a very successful game. How much of this success do you ascribe to your business model?
Daniel KAPLAN: I think it played quite a big role since it was discounted for quite a long time. The game was discounted from day one, since it was “released” during very early development. The whole idea was to release it early to see if there was an interest and to see if the project could bear fruit. A lot of people who bought it initially, I think, felt that they had somewhat invested into the project and the ones who were on from the beginning made quite a good deal.
C&S: Do Minecraft exploit any specific previous business model, or has it paved its way with a unique model to generate profit?
D.K.: There are other games that were the inspiration for this model, Mount and Blade from TaleWorlds for instance. They also released their game before it was finished for a discounted price and continued the development with the community.
C&S: Today Minecraft has become a phenomenon that is not only tied to the game itself, but there are many physical product spin-offs. How important is this brand extension for Mojang?
D.K.:We are still a game company but it definitely helps. I think there is a fine line in between how much you can do with a brand before it feels too stretched. We try to create merch/products that we would like to have ourselves, rather than try to fill gaps with our brand with various products. It is sure a fine line and I think a brand can be too exposed and become too stretched.
C&S: Is it possible to become too successful? That is, having produced Minecraft – is it possible to repeat that success? What about the next game of Mojang?
D.K.: I think the problem with becoming too successful is that you will always be compared with your success, regardless of what you produce after that. It is important to not lose focus and continue to deliver things regardless of what they are so you don’t stagnate.
I think that it is almost impossible to create a success like Minecraft again. A lof of the “cred” Mojang got was because it was an up and coming company/person during the initial development of Minecraft, and the whole story around Notch (the founder of Mojang) was a classic David and Goliath story, which we can’t reproduce anymore. We have a whole different starting point now in comparison from where we started.
The next game we are working on, Scrolls, is already profitable and was released in a similar manner to Minecraft. We are super happy about the game being profitable even though it is not close to the success of Minecraft. It is a bit silly to try to compete/compare our projects with Minecraft to be honest.
C&S: What directions do you see the video games industry taking when it comes to generating sustainable business models? Last year Minecraft was one of the two pay per play games in the US top 20 mobile games. Not adopting a free to play business model, is it a conviction or the best way to be different within a serious competitive framework?
D.K.:I don’t know what will happen in the future. You see different trends all the time and you see companies not following the trends and they are successful. I think that the mobile business will continue growing and will continue to have different business models for various types of games or apps. I think it is hard to say that everything will be x or y. Considering the widespread presence of mobile devices, it allows for more niche products too which will let you create products that don’t follow the trends and can still be successful.
Daniel KAPLAN is Mojang's business developer since October 2010. He was born and raised in Skövde, Sweden. He founded ludiosity.com
For more information about our activities: www.comstrat.org
COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES
Discover our issue Video Game business models and monetization on this subject.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94, 2nd Quarter 2014
Video game business models and monetization
Interview with Yves GUILLEMOT Co-Founder and CEO UBISOFT
Conducted by Philippe CHANTEPIE
French Ministry of Culture and Communication;
Associate researcher, Innovation & Regulation Chair, Paris
C&S: We have entered the 8th generation of consoles. Do you consider it likely that this will upset the market positions of publishers and console manufacturers?
Yves Guillemot: This new generation of consoles brings many changes, incorporating all the innovations from parallel markets and multiplying their potential through technological power. These platforms reach an unparalleled high level of performance, immersion and opportunities which allow us to create even more powerful game experiences. Each generation of consoles has large implications for publishers who need to invest heavily to maximize power and be able to seize the great opportunities that arise.
On the other hand, the strong growth in mobile and PC markets, driven by social games, permanently connected and free access, is a challenge for traditional industry players, with new economic and editorial models that differ from more traditional games. These models started being introduced at the end of the previous generation of consoles. New platforms like the Playstation 4 or Xbox One have fully integrated these developments and allow us to put the player at the center - before, during and after the game experience - and to give him/her an increasingly active role in changing content.
C&S: Casual gaming has grown rapidly and has already started occupying a predominant position. Do you think it is likely that this will continue to increase?
Y.G.: Casual gaming is not a new phenomenon. In 2006 the Nintendo Wii had taken a big step towards attracting video games and a new audience, part of which is now plays more traditional games. The rise of social networks, mobile games and online greatly amplified this phenomenon and globalised the supply and the audience to which it is intended. The video game market today encompasses nearly 2.5 billion players, compared to 500 million previously. This is a pool of significant growth for our industry. For example, one of our flagship brands Just Dance is a dance game first released on the Wii, which has sold 49 million copies since 2009. It was particularly popular during the Christmas season.
C&S: We are witnessing significant changes in revenue models. Are these new models mature enough and able to renew the game console segment?
Y.G.: These new models are growing dynamically and also continue to evolve. Some examples or experiences have shown us the difficulty of maintaining high market shares and good consistent results. Without a miracle, renewal is necessary to adapt to a changing marketplace. Ubisoft deploys and uses these models, while consolidating and diversifying a portfolio of original brands for which we control the entire creative and commercial process. Beyond the video game, our goal is to increase the visibility and attractiveness of our franchises by being increasingly present on new media such as television, with the Raving Rabbids TV series, and soon the cinema with the adaptation of franchises like Assassin's Creed or Splinter Cell. The Raving Rabbids Futuroscope theme park attraction, open for several months, is also a success.
C&S: Do you consider that the development of competition in the video game industry will lead to transform the production system of game publishing and how?
Y.G.: In recent years, production of video games has become considerably more professional. Our industry is constantly evolving: our businesses, the technologies we use, as well as the habits and customs of the consumers, such as being permanently connected with their phones. These changes are revolutionizing the way we design our games. We must constantly renew and adapt to propose the most innovative and immersive creative experiences. For example, a game like Watch Dogs allows our players via mobile applications connected to the game console, to play anywhere and anytime; it also allows their friends who do not have game consoles to help them progress in the game. Our mission is to provide our players ever stronger and enriching experiences while finding technical solutions allowing us to reduce our costs and therefore our risk. To remain agile and ready to face these challenges, we actively invest in R & D in France and abroad.
C&S: Which factors do you think are the most disruptive of the game economy factors present or future: free to play, an actor like Steam, etc.?
Y.G.: The free-to-play model was born in Asia to circumvent the problems of piracy of the PC game business model. This model has experienced significant growth in recent years in Western markets. By removing entry barriers, it allows players to experience games and be free to invite their friends and invest if they like the content. This model has now gone beyond the sphere of casual games in which it was previously embedded to move towards more traditional experiences and platforms such as consoles. Ubisoft has been present in this segment for some years with games like Settlers Online, Howrse, and more recently with Trials Frontier, and The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot.
C&S: The Montreal studio set-up seems to be a supporting model of this industry. What elements of this support do you consider are the most strategic to strengthen the ecosystem of this sector?
Y.G.: Canada, but also other territories around the world, has been able to highlight craft, creativity and innovation as a driver of economic development. These territories were able to discern the many benefits that the digital creation industry and jobs with high added value could bring. In addition to the direct incentives, education is also specialized in these areas to form a diverse pool of talents. Two key factors in this success that are important in the eyes of the gaming industry are the unique efforts and the simplicity of public procedures.
Yves Guillemot founded Ubisoft in 1986 with his four brothers, and was named CEO of the company in 1988. Starting off by importing and translating video games from England, Yves and his brothers immediately used the distribution business to fund the creation of games, starting with Zombie in 1990 for Atari ST. Yves has overseen the phenomenal growth of Ubisoft into an internationally renowned and respected creator of quality video games with 29 studios, distribution in 55 countries and with more than 9,200 employees around the globe. For the 2013-2014 fiscal year it generated sales of 1.007 billion euros.
Born in Brittany of France's west coast, Yves grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. All five Guillemot brothers worked summers in the family agriculture supply business. Later, Yves attended business school in Paris, formalizing his education in the creation and sustenance of an enterprise. Yves is married and enjoys playing video games with his three children.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94, 2nd Quarter 2014
For more information about our activities: www.comstrat.org
COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES
[ITW] Wolgang KOPF, Senior Vice President for Group Public and Regulatory Affairs Deutsche Telekom AG
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 93, 1st Quarter 2014
Re-thinking the EU telecom regulation
Senior Vice President
for Group Public and Regulatory Affairs
Deutsche Telekom AG
Conducted by Ulrich STUMPF WIK-Consult GmbH
C&S: What is your vision of the single telecoms market in Europe in terms of market integration, services, players and competition?
Wolfgang KOPF: We need to understand two things: the ICT sector is of strategic importance for Europe's competitiveness and future well being, and the sector is subject to increasing global competition. To stay competitive, we have to exploit synergies and achieve scale in-country as well as cross-border. Competition authorities must refrain from imposing excessive remedies that undermine merger synergies and scale advantages, preserving an artificially fragmented market that hurts the global competitiveness of Europe's economy on the long term. In this context, policy makers should recognize realities of global competition. Instead of welcoming quasi-monopolistic competition coming from outside Europe it would be better to focus on the competitiveness of European ICT Industry. A more global approach to competition would benefit end-users with more investment and superior quality.
On the sector specific regulatory side, Europe suffers from a patchwork of 28 different regulatory environments compared to other economic regions of the world. A harmonized regulatory framework and cross-border competition will constitute major building blocks of a true Single Market. The current level of fragmentation cannot be good for an industry so much dependent on scale as ours. Further harmonization providing for a less complex and more predictable regulatory regime and its consistent application in all member states are necessary for a single telecoms market in Europe. This does not mean to offer the same service at an equal price across Europe as countries differ e.g. with regard to topology, population density, purchasing power etc. Therefore a single market approach has to cater for the still existing differences which include diverse product and pricing schemes for consumers across Europe.
C&S: The Draft Connected Continent Regulation introduces a more Eurocentric model of regulation based on stronger Commission powers. Do you believe that ultimately a single market requires a single EU regulator?
W.K. : When looking at the regulatory oversight in Europe, one thing is absolutely clear: The current institutional three layer setting that involves national regulatory authorities, BEREC and the EU Commission in virtually all regulatory decisions is far too complex, leads to lengthy proceedings and uncertainty and is definitely not a sustainable model in such a fast moving sector. We would prefer a clear allocation of tasks and competences between the EU level and Member State level in order to provide for faster, more stream-lined proceedings and more predictable decisions.
This does not necessarily mean that we need to build up a new bureaucracy at a time when we are considering significantly reducing the level of asymmetric regulation. The more we reduce the amount of complex regulation, the easier harmonisation will be. In such a dynamic market less bureaucracy is usually more conducive for innovation and investment.
C&S: Many responses to the Commission's single market proposals point out the lack of an impact assessment and underline that the proposals have little chance of achieving their stated targets. Do you share these criticisms?
W.K. : First of all, we share the Commission's analysis of the state of the telecoms sector in Europe and agree that framework conditions have to change to put the European digital economy back on track and support more investment in high-speed broadband networks. The objective of a policy reform for the sector was also confirmed by European heads of state and government at their Summit in October. The Single Market Regulation could become a key element to help the EU ICT sector to regain its former strength.
The announcement of the Single Market initiative by Commissioner Kroes in February 2013 raised high expectations in the sector as well as in the investors' community and discussions with the Commission were indeed promising. However, the proposals presented by the Commission in September struck a difficult balance between pro-investment elements and additional burdens for the European telecoms sector.
While we particularly welcome the Commission's proposals for a better coordination of spectrum management in the EU, we believe that proposals in the draft Regulation that further undermine the revenue base and investment capacity of the sector, such as on roaming and international calls, should be removed. A stronger emphasis should be put on fostering new investments in NGA infrastructures and establishing a level playing field for EU telecoms companies to enable them to better compete with global companies in the Internet value chain. On open internet regulation, a full harmonisation at EU-level could, if appropriate and future-proof, provide for legal certainty and support more investment and innovation in the sector. Here it is essential to provide for more commercial freedom for new business models. This would also be in the interest of other sectors of the economy as well as consumers who would benefit from a higher variety of service offerings.
Now the Regulation is in the hands of the European legislator and it remains to be seen whether the intended goal, i.e. to strengthen the European telecoms sector, can be achieved. Recent draft amendments seem to worsen the whole package further.
C&S: By the time the single market regulation can be approved, it will likely be just one year away from the next review of the regulatory framework. To what extent could the provisions set out in the Draft Regulation of the Commission be postponed and taken up in the next Telecoms Package Review?
W.K. : Time is of essence in this fast moving sector. The analysis clearly shows that Europe has been falling back in the last decade and that the framework conditions are part of the problem. In time of crisis it is not the best idea to postpone. If we see a chance to have some quick fixes we should grasp every opportunity to improve the situation for the European industry.
To postpone until the next telecoms package review would not mean just a year of delay as suggested by the question. We expect the Commission to presents proposals for a complete review of the telecoms regulatory framework not before mid 2015. Then we will have a full legislative process, possibly concluded by 2018 with implementation in 2020 by Member States when using the typical instrument of a Directive. I have sincere doubts on whether we can afford to wait another five years until we see a new framework to become effective.
C&S: The telecoms operators deplore the lack of a level playing field given the far less formalised regulatory environment for OTT players. In what areas to you believe is the most urgent need for action and what is your view on the Draft Regulation with regard to these concerns?
W.K. : Since the time of adoption of the EU regulatory framework in 2002 the communications market has significantly changed. Today, the migration to all IP in electronic communications networks is increasingly diminishing the distinction between traditional telecommunications services and IP based communications services. Much text, voice or video communication is increasingly substituted by equivalent internet based services, e.g. software applications and social networks. Convergence is already a reality. From our industry point of view it is not acceptable that we have to play by different rules for comparable services. From a consumer protection point of view it is neither understandable why consumers need less protection when the like services are provided by an internet company or a handset manufacturer. To ensure consistent application, the rules established for traditional telecommunications services must also apply for equivalent and functionally substitutable IP-based communications services.
Furthermore, well established principles in the telecoms sector like transparency, interoperability, non-discrimination and the right of switching providers need to be transposed to all players in the broader internet market. Why are you not allowed to switch all your Apps when you switch from Android to IOS and vice versa? What is the difference to number portability? A level playing field and symmetric rules, applicable to all market players along the value chain, will help keeping markets open for competition and protect consumers irrespective of the underlying technology over which services are provided. This is a key requirement to provide for competitive framework conditions for the European ICT industry.
The Commission has recognised the need for action (see Communication COM(2013) 634/4) and intends to address the level playing field between telcos and OTT players in the next telecoms review.
C&S: An important part of ex ante regulation provided for by the current EU framework is triggered by Significant Market Power. To what extent can regulators take account of the competitive constraints imposed by OTT services in the current framework when defining markets and assessing market power?
W.K. : The asymmetric sector-specific price and access regulation of incumbent operators was established once to promote competition after the liberalisation of the telecoms markets in Europe. Today's telecoms markets are characterised by very strong and widespread infrastructure based competition in the fixed and mobile markets. Therefore, it is time to remember under which caveats the current regulation had started. It was subject to a near time sunset. Furthermore, the industry faces intense competition by global OTT players, such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. For example, the volume of daily OTT-messaging traffic is already twice the volume of SMS traffic and growing fast (estimation by Informa, May 2013). In 2012, $23.2 bn. of mobile network operators' SMS revenues have been lost due to the enormous popularity of OTT messaging services ($54.4 bn. in 2016, estimation by Ovum, Sept. 2012).
Since those players use different pricing schemes (consumers pay ‘only' with their data), traditional market analysis tools fail to completely capture the level of the competitive pressure on traditional telecoms services. Furthermore, regulatory and competition authorities continue to rely on partly obsolete market definitions. Competition policy needs to find a way to how the competitive pressure of OTT services can be measured and thus the markets defined according to market realities.
C&S: Competition concerns have led antitrust regulators to approve mergers and infrastructure sharing agreements only under strict conditions (divest activities, hand back or sell off rights to use spectrum). Do you believe more consolidation is required in the European telecoms industry and do you see major flaws in the application of competition law?
W.K. : The European telecoms industry needs to operate on an efficient scale in order to meet the NGA investment challenge. High amounts of sunk fixed costs, long-term amortization periods and the need to continuously adopt new technologies and upgrade infrastructures make scale an inevitable and critical requirement for European telecoms to be able to provide competitive, state of the art networks.
A combination of in- and cross-country consolidation is required to exploit available economies of scale and density. For example, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimates that moving from 25 percent to 30 percent average market share per mobile network operator would yield a cumulative €30-45 bn. of additional free cash flow until 2020. As a result of the pooling of existing customers and networks which occur in a merger and intensified utilization of networks, it can become economically viable to increase network coverage to certain rural areas that previously could not be served economically. In order to achieve the objective of a true Digital Single Market, it is necessary to eliminate inefficiencies and to establish operators that can sustain a pan-European footprint.
European policy makers and merger control should adequately take into account the advantages of consolidated operations, in particular acknowledge the value of superior network quality and changing consumption patterns in the light of technological convergence and abstain from artificially reversing market-driven developments. Competition is best safeguarded by competitors that operate on an efficient scale. Market entry that simply relies on preferential treatment by competition authorities is inherently inefficient and unsustainable. Spectrum reservation and exclusive wholesale access amounts to a subsidisation of entrants that distorts competition and investment incentives.
Competition authorities still mainly focus on short term price effects and underestimate dynamic efficiencies, long-term investments and quality implications. This leads to less favourable market outcomes. One striking example is the H3G/Orange merger in Austria: The EU Commission had concerns that the elimination of one out of four mobile network operators in Austria could have led to less competition and higher prices. Thus, the approval was tied to the implementation of structural remedies, such as the provision of wholesale access for MVNOs and a fourth entrant spectrum reservation. Nonetheless, no network operator entered the spectrum auction. The reason is the intensive price competition in Austria which questions the return on investment.
During the T-Mobile/Orange merger proceedings in the UK the Commission abstained from a new entrant remedy and thus chose a far more moderate approach. Mobile customers in the UK still benefited from post-merger price declines and a significant quality increase due to the widespread rollout of 4G networks.
These examples show that we need a comprehensive analysis of the price-quality ratio (so called quality adjusted prices) instead of an isolated focus on short term price effects. Competition policy must apply a new approach concerning dynamic efficiencies which are so important for investment intensive industries such as the telecom industry.
C&S: Which cross-border synergies do you expect for European network operators?
W.K. : Cross-border scale economies typically exist on a higher level of the value chain, namely services. The main driver to capture the full potential of cross-country synergies for telcos is to integrate IT applications and network management platforms across countries. Harmonized rules and procedures could help to allow pan-European telecom operators to realize additional synergies. The BCG study estimates that the basis for potential cross-country synergies for European network operators theoretically adds up to about €95 bn. a year and a cumulative €840 bn. through 2020. However, such synergies are expected to be reaped only over a period of 10 or more years, since the realization depends on lengthy replacement cycles of the existing network and IT infrastructure. In this context, we have to make sure not to mix-up harmonisation with additional, non-proportionate burdens for the industry.
C&S: Do you expect that the reform of the EU regulatory environment brought about in 2013-14 will provide the stimulus required to achieve the roll-out objectives of the Digital Agenda?
W.K. : In July 2012 Commissioner Kroes announced to realign the European regulatory policy in order to enhance the broadband investment environment. The Recommendation on consistent non-discrimination obligations and costing methodologies, adopted in September 2013, was the first tangible result of the announced policy change. It provides for price stability of the unbundled local loop, and allows more flexibility for the pricing of NGA wholesale products where infrastructure competition and effective non-discrimination are present. The Recommendation is an important political signal that certainly helps promoting confidence in the regulatory policy in Europe. However, this was only a first step in the right direction and further steps are needed to promote a healthy European telecoms sector, able to ensure investments in future broadband networks. As I see no alternative to this route, I am confident that we will make further progress to re-establish the competitiveness of this strategically important sector.
Wolfgang KOPF (49) has been Senior Vice President for Group Public and Regulatory Affairs at Deutsche Telekom AG since November 2006. He is responsible for Regulatory Affairs, Competition and Media Policy, Spectrum Strategy and Public Affairs. Wolfgang Kopf joined Deutsche Telekom Group in 1995 where he held various senior positions since. He studied Arts and Law at the Universities of Mainz and Speyer, specializing in European and International Law. He also holds a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree from the University of London. During his training as a lawyer, he worked for a leading international law firm and the European Commission. Wolfgang Kopf is a Board Member of GSMA. He is also a Member of the Foundation Board of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen and a Board Member of the Brussels based Economic Think Tank BRUEGEL. Furthermore, he is the co-editor of two German Law Journals.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 93, 1st quarter 2014
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COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 93, 1st Quarter 2013
Re-thinking the EU telecom regulation
Summary of this issue: It is in a complex environment combining economic crisis, a growing gap between the performances of European operators and those of the US leaders, questions about Europe'sability to meet its objectives in NGA terms ("2020 Digital Agenda targets") and preliminary signs of the appetite of non-European operators to gain a foothold in the markets of the EU, that the Commission announced the publication of its proposal for a "Connected Continent" Regulation to the Parliament and the Council. This was accompanied by a few key reports, which are well represented in this issue of Communications & Strategies. The papers which have been selected provide a deep insight into the issues of European telecom policy addressed in the current "Connected Continent" proposal of the European Commission and that will be at the core of the forthcoming review of the regulatory framework. They are supplemented by two exciting interviews with key personnalities from Deutsche Telekon and the European Commission-DG Connect.
Interview with Roberto VIOLA
Deputy Director General
Conducted by Giovanni AMENDOLA,
Head of Relations with International Authorities,
& Yves GASSOT
CEO, IDATE-DigiWorld Institute
C&S: Could you explain why Mrs. Kroes' draft regulation aims at accelerating the creation of a single market for telecoms?
Europe desperately needs to tap into new sources of innovation and growth. Today ICT constitutes half of our productivity growth, and every economic sector today increasingly depends on good connectivity to be competitive: the solution lies in applying the single market philosophy also to the telecoms networks that underpin those connections.
The fact is, European telecom companies cannot afford to remain trapped in 28 national markets; and Europe cannot afford it either. Europeans are enjoying single market freedoms, and telecoms are an increasingly important part of that: as businesses want to use new services like cloud computing, connected cars and mobile health.
If we allow those barriers to remain, we starve the digital economy of the raw materials it needs: connectivity and scale. When supported, the digital ecosystem can grow and create jobs fast; 794,000 were created in the app economy alone in just five years, even with a wider economy in recession. And across the economy, digital tools stimulate business, through higher productivity, efficiency and revenue.
Europe needs to recapture its global lead in ICT – a lead we once had, but lost. The missing link in this digital ecosystem is a telecoms single market. The European single market with 500 million customers will be one of the largest and the wealthiest of the world.
What are the likely characteristics of a single telecoms market in Europe?
A genuine single market in telecommunications is a market that looks at the evolution of internet and data services where consumers and businesses can obtain the best services from any EU operator, where operators can competitively offer services outside their home Member State, and market them anywhere in the EU; and where there are no excessive charges for cross-border communications or for roaming. It is where telecoms companies can have the ambition to expand on a continental scale – and every European benefits from choice and seamless data service. The Connected Continent is the underpinning infrastructure of the future European digital economy.
Do you think that the benefits of national competitive markets can be combined with the benefits stemming from the emergence of pan-European operators?
Our vision is for a dynamic, competitive market where pan-European providers compete alongside regional or local players, more local and more tailored. Such a market will promote competition and increase choice for consumers: with fewer barriers and greater economies of scale, companies will only succeed by offering the best deals at the best prices.
Until now in Europe we have had national markets. The result is significant fragmentation and a lack of dynamism: in particular if you compare Europe with its global competitors. As a result we are losing out on growth and jobs. This is not acceptable any longer. Operators should be able to easily provide their services in any country where they see a market opportunity, without facing unnecessary restrictions – that is what a single market means.
The draft regulation introduces a much more Eurocentric model of regulation based on stronger Commission powers. In addition, the Commission has also stressed that a genuine single market will ultimately require a single EU regulator. Can you explain the new institutional model of regulation proposed by the Commission?
The Commission proposal does not establish new bureaucracy or regulatory bodies at EU level: it levers on the existing bodies and keeps institutional change to the minimum necessary to enable the single market. On Spectrum we would like to increase the role of the Radio Frequency Policy Group as an advisor to the Commission and we want to make sure that Member States enhance their cooperation when assigning and licensing spectrum for broadband applications.
Another important element of our proposal is the enhanced role set out for BEREC in ensuring consistency of regulation.
As we explained in the Communication that accompanied the presentation of the legislation, the enhanced cooperation model we have proposed does not preclude a future review of the regulatory framework, considering all options and selecting the most cost-effective one in light of the market scenario as it then stands. In such a future scenario, it is possible that in a completed genuine single telecoms market we would need tighter links among National Regulators by means of an EU regulatory body responsible both for spectrum and telecom markets in charge of interpreting and implementing a harmonised legal framework. But this is hypothetical; and not covered by the proposal now under discussion.
At the same time, a single telecoms market with lower barriers to entry and more effective competition should over time normally lead to less regulation - shifting responsibility from regulatory to competition authorities as is the case in other economic sectors. Some regulatory tasks will always remain linked to the national or local level. It would therefore be important to assess the possible tasks of an EU regulator, as and when this option might be considered in future.
To what extent could the provisions set out in the draft regulation of the Commission be postponed and taken up in the next Telecoms Package Review?
A fully fledged telecom review is a complex task and it could take years to be completed. Apart from some countries, we witness a very slow development of fast broadband and lack of investment in Europe. We cannot wait for the situation to worsen. As our Commissioner, Vice-President Kroes, has put it: with the economy where it is, with technology where it is, with the rest of the world marching on quickly, we need to act, now, urgently. As we have said on many occasions, this cannot be a piecemeal approach: only the package taken as a whole can bring us towards the single market we need.
In parallel with the work on the Regulation – but not instead of it – we should of course prepare the ground for the next Commission and a future review of the telecoms framework. Indeed in September 2013, we set out how we are preparing such a review, looking at issues like enhancing consistency, a single regulator, the level playing field, and audiovisual convergence. It's right to start preparing for that. Such a review will take time. And we cannot wait that long before acting.
How do you interpret the critical reactions from the BEREC, operators and even a number of governments?
When the proposal was presented there were initial mixed signals, which is quite normal considering the issues at stake. This proposal is designed to have a real impact, it is not a minimum common denominator to make every interest group happy. Some operators favour some aspects but combat hard against others: short termism leads to fighting the end of roaming, for example. But we continue to regard all aspects as integral to the objective, not separable from each other. Besides the telecom providers the reactions from all industrial and service sectors have been generally very positive showing how single market counts for the future of Europe. Also the reaction of the investor community was in general favorable.
The immune system of Regulators is programmed to guarantee stability and to be prudent about change. I remember back in 2007 when many National Regulators were initially opposed very vehemently to the idea of establishing BEREC. An initial critical reaction from National Regulators was to be expected. However in a number of points the opinions of the Commission and of BEREC are convergent.
However many things have changed since the presentation of our proposal. Heads of States and Government in the European Council of October 2013 have welcomed the single market proposal. The Parliament is working very constructively and at full speed towards adopting its opinion on the proposal.
Although in some areas differences of point of view remain, we are now engaging in a constructive dialogue with BEREC which I am sure will bear fruits.
What would you say to telecoms operators who consider that there is too much discrepancy between the very strict sectoral regulatory framework to which they have to submit (ex ante and ex post) and the far less formalised OTT environment?
It is a recurring question but is probably not the right question. Telecom operators are infrastructure providers and "over-the-top" internet players ("OTTs") by definition are not. It's the same difference that you can observe between passenger services and transport industry. The telecom world is becoming data centric. The telecom infrastructures have to evolve towards this new paradigm. For telecoms operators, OTTs are an important driver of connectivity demand and consumption. In other words without OTT's there would not be a telecom industry future and vice versa. Recent trends have shown the increasing interrelation between telecoms operators and OTT's. This trend will be continuing in the future. It is also clear that when analysing competitive pressure all service providers have to be taken into account. What counts is the nature of the service not who is providing it. We also have to recall that there are different kinds of OTT services, not only those competing with transmission and communications services but also those which may fall under the audiovisual media services directive.
Now, it is clear that the close relationship between telecoms and OTT players poses opportunities and regulatory and competition issues that need to be examined carefully, also possibly in a future review of the telecoms framework. These challenges, however, are not confined to this framework, but include other issues that will need to be addressed at European and at the international level.
How do you account for the difference in growth of the telecommunications service market on each side of the Atlantic in the last five years?
Investment, investment and investment! The differential in investment for example in 4G networks is rather remarkable and probably explains it all. The size of the market is also an important element. Fragmentation into small national markets means European telecoms operators have little incentive to expand and reach the scale of some of their American counterparts. We want to enable European telecoms operators to find business opportunities across Member States, and reap the benefits of a market of 500 million consumers.
Do you believe that the Digital Agenda objectives for 2015 and 2020 can be achieved by most of the European countries? Do you also envisage a need to reset the objectives by introducing more ambitious targets?
Having clear targets since the DAE was launched in May 2010 has to enable progress in Europe to be measured. Many national and regional authorities have adopted their digital agenda with the same objectives. In the annual Digital Agenda Scoreboard, we make data openly available so everyone can assess and compare performance and progress country by country.
Basic broadband internet is now everywhere in the EU, but data shows that more effort is needed to achieve the 2020 DAE targets. Fast broadband now reaches over half the population – as 54% of EU citizens have broadband available at speeds greater than 30 Mbps. Internet access is increasingly going mobile - 48% of EU citizens can access the internet via a mobile network from their smartphone, portable computer or other mobile device. However, only 2% of homes have ultrafast broadband subscriptions (above 100 Mbps), far from the EU's 2020 target of 50%. This is very alarming. Before setting new targets we have to use every policy instrument to make sure that we can meet the existing ones. If there is a remedy above all for such an alarming situation then this is called the single market.
Roberto VIOLA holds a doctor degree in electronic engineering (Dr. Eng.) and a master in business administration (MBA). He is Deputy Director General at European Commission - DG CNECT, with responsibilities for Electronic Communications Networks and Services Directorate, Cooperation Directorate - International and Inter-institutional relations, Stakeholders cooperation, Coordination Directorate - Growth and Jobs, Innovations and Knowledge Base, Media and Data Directorate. Since 2005 to 2012 he has been the Secretary General in charge of managing AGCOM (Italian media and telecom regulator). He has been Chairman for 2012-2013 of the European Radio Spectrum Policy group (RSPG), he was Deputy Chairman for 2011 and Chairman for 2010. He was in the Board of BEREC (Body of European Telecom Regulators). He was Chairman for 2007 of the European Regulatory Group (ERG). He served in AGCOM (1999-2004), as Director of regulation department and technical Director being in charge of, inter alia, regulation in terrestrial, cable and satellite television, frequency planning, access and interconnection of communication services, cost accounting and tariff in telecommunication and broadcasting services. From 1985-1999 he served in various positions as a staff member of the European Space Agency (ESA) in particular, he has been head of telecommunication and broadcasting satellite services.
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 93, 1st quarter 2014
- For more information about our activities: www.comstrat.org
COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 92, 4th Quarter 2013
Joint Interview between Gilles FONTAINE, IDATE and Eli NOAM, Columbia Business School
Summary of this issue: "Video cord-cutting" refers to the process of switching from traditional cable, IPTV, or a satellite video subscription to video services accessed through a broadband connection, so called over-the-top (OTT) video. The impact of cord cutting will probably differ among countries, depending on the level of roll-out of digital cable, fibre optic networks, and/or IPTV, on the tariffs of legacy video services, on the quality of broadband access and on national players’ strategies.
Regulation will play a key role in this new environment, as a strict enforcement of net neutrality could prevent network operators from leveraging their access to customer base to market their own video services.
Joint interview with
Gilles FONTAINE, IDATE,
Eli NOAM, Columbia Business School
New York, USA
C&S: How would you define cord-cutting, from a US or European perspective?
Gilles FONTAINE: Cord-cutting, in Europe, is seen mainly as a USA phenomenon, where consumers would trade-off their pay-TV subscription for over-the-top Internet services. The last years, in Europe, have rather seen the rise of powerful cable and IMPTV operators competing in the pay-TV market with legacy satellite packager.
Eli NOAM: Cord-cutting is the dropping, by consumers, of expensive cable TV subscriptions in favor of online access to TV programs and on-demand films. Drawbacks for consumers are less certain quality (bandwidth), less availability of live programming such as sports, and absence of some channels. Advantages are cost-saving, no need to pay for undesired channels, better search, less advertising, greater choice, more control. In a broader sense, cord-cutting is a transition of TV from a broadcast/cable push model to an individualized pull model. So this is not just about switching to yet another delivery platform. That's the easy part. It is much more fundamental. Looking ahead, one change will be that by going online, TV will move from a slow-moving, highly standardized technology controlled by broadcasters and consumer electronic firms to a system where multiple technical approaches compete with each other and propel video delivery into an internet-rate of change and innovation. And that's just the technology. Equally important changes will take place on the content level, and in the structure of the media industry, in the advertising and business models, and in the policy.
Do you see any evidence that cord-cutting is really happening?
Gilles FONTAINE: Cord-cutting, in Europe, is not happening, or is not happening yet. Several reasons account for this: on the one hand competition is intense in Europe between networks, and is driving Internet access and television prices down, therefore limiting the incentive to "cut the cord". On the other hand, Internet services are far from having the same level of offer as US ones, even if catch-up television is increasingly available throughout Europe. Also, the video-on-demand market is very fragmented, with still limited catalogues and interfaces that could be improved and subscription video on demand is nascent, and mostly pushed by US-bases players, even if some European players have launched first services. Finally, the penetration of connected TVs and connected set-top-boxes is probably also lower in Europe than in the USA.
Eli NOAM: In the short run, there is less cord-cutting than media reports and hype suggest. For a variety of reasons, almost all participants in the media industry have an interest in dramatizing the issue. Broadcasters are making investments in ‘second screen' distribution, partly to be prepared for change, and need to justify them. ISPs are expanding bandwidth to position themselves as providers of mass entertainment options. Telecom companies, similarly, need to upgrade their networks. New providers of bypass service to broadcast and cable, such as Aereo in the US, create buzz to their market-disruptive activities. Media cloud providers such as Amazon or Netflix present new options. And even cable TV operators, who are the ones negatively affected, have an interest in presenting the problem as a crisis, at least to policy makers, in order to gain regulatory relief.
The reality is more modest, at least in the short term, but not insignificant. According to a credible analyst, Craig Moffett, The "pay TV sector" – cable, DBS, and IPTV – lost 316,000 subscribers in a 12 month period mid-2012- mid-2013. Since IPTV has gained subscribers, cable losses must have been larger. That is a loss of about 0.3%. Another estimate for 2012 has the number at 1.08 million. In a 4-year period 2008-2011, anywhere between 3.65 and 4.75 million subscribers were lost. But that was in the midst of the Great Recession, and thus not all can be attributed to cord-cutting.
Do OTT services really challenge telcos and cablecos managed TV and video offers?
Gilles FONTAINE: Many studies seem to show that OTT services propose a better customer experience than the equivalent launched by the telcos or the cablecos. OTT services are Internet natives, customer friendly companies, with a rhythm of innovation that is difficult to compete with. Telcos and cablecos still concentrate on the "linear television model", even if they have developed their own on-demand offers, whereas OTT services specialize in on-demand services. But telcos and cablecos still benefit from a privileged access to the TV set through their TV set-top-box, a competitive advantage which is about to be undermined by low cost solutions to connect the TV set, such as Chromecast from Google.
Eli NOAM: Overall, the extent of video streaming has been quite large. In the evening hours, about two-thirds of internet traffic are video-bits. Netflix alone has added 630,000 streaming subscribers in the US in 3 months in 2013, to a total of 30 million. Thus, while the numbers of cord cutters is not huge yet, as mentioned, a steady loss of subscriptions is to be expected, and it is backed up by surveys in which cable subscribers grumble about staying with expensive subscriptions which they do not fully utilize. This is particularly true for the younger generation. 34% of the Millenials (cohorts born 1980-2000) say that they watch mainly online video and not broadcast TV. For Gen X and for Boomers the numbers drop to 20% and 10%.
With OTT available, the traditional business model of cable companies unravels. In the past, they were able to raise prices and to pass on the raises by channel providers. This becomes more difficult. Similarly, it becomes more difficult to offer only bundled channels ("prix fixe"). Similarly, the ability of channel providers to offer content to viewers directly reduces their bargaining strength considerably. If they want to keep up, they also need to develop expertise in online technology, social networking, and mobile communications.
UK cableco Virgin Media and Sweden cableco recently signed a distribution agreement with Netflix. Do you foresee any revision of the cablecos and telcos triple-play model?
Gilles FONTAINE: Building an IPTV service is not straightforward for a telco: network costs can be high to ensure a homogeneous quality of service. They also face high programming costs and the complexity of negotiating with the media world. On-demand services hardly prove to be profitable, because of the market power of Hollywood studios combined with the strong competition between telcos and cablecos, has for instance led to almost unrecoupable minimal fees to access programs. The situation can be similar for a cableco that would not have the resources to acquire exclusive, attractive content: the recent deal between Virgin Media or Com Hem and Netflix heralds a change of strategy for the smaller telcos and clablecos, which could favor to comfort their Internet access business by offering the best OTT services rather than pushing their own television packages.
Eli NOAM: Overcoming all of these challenges is possible but requires an acceleration of internal processes, major investments, and a willingness to give up some control. There are signs of change in that direction. Comcast, which has just paid $ 39 billion for NBC Universal, thus gaining vertical control from the camera lense to the eyeball, has now announced a trial of a cord-cutting offer to subscribers: if they take a Comcast broadband service (of a quality that is today an upgrade for most customers) they get at basically no additional charge HBO Go (HBO's archive of self-produced shows plus current other shows, available anywhere in the US from most devices), plus the free broadcast channels. The regular monthly price $ 70/ month, compared to a price of $ 135 for a full complement of 200 channels including HBO Go. So the viewer willing to skip regular cable channels saves a lot of money. The data cap for such a service is 300 Gigabytes. This is about 120 hours of HD viewing per month, which is adequate for single viewer but tight for a multi-device, multi-viewer household.
So this shows that cable companies are considering to embrace cord-cutting as an inevitablity. Another development in that direction is the US cable industry's considering to integrate Netflix into its operations. They are holding talks with Netflix to make Netflix an option on their set-top boxes. In such a scenario, Netflix would, in effect, become cable companies' major VOD provider and revenues would be shared. This, together with the cable MSO's own cord-cutting option, would in effect accelerate cord-cutting. However, cable companies would not be entirely bypassed. They would mitigate cord-cutting into channel cutting. Ultimately, cable companies' main asset is their transmission network. Its exploitation will undergo transformation.
TV channels also face another form of cord-cutting, as viewers may directly choose their on-demand programs. How do you see their future role, if any?
Gilles FONTAINE: TV channels, as aggregators, may lose their specific role if on-demand consumption develops significantly. However, they will evolve proposing more and more live events to continue gathering strong audiences at the same time. Moreover, there is still a need of arranging the on-demand catalogues, pushing the right content to the right viewer at the right time and on the right device. TV channels should be able to leverage their linear programming to play their aggregator role in an on-demand market. But they will need to heavily invest in IT and review their trade-off between linear and on-demand distribution.
Eli NOAM: TV channels gain and lose. They gain in bargaining power over cable and other distributors. They can deal directly with users, though more likely they will go through new types of intermediaries such as Apple and Amazon.com. In a profusion of content offerings, strong brands are a valuable way for users to search for content. And if they can identify users or user characteristics they can fine-tune and individualize advertising. The danger for channel providers is that the loss of cable MSOs hold over viewers means that they cannot share in the MSOs pricing power. Furthermore, content providers can disintermediate them by going directly to viewers. Sports leagues, for example, could deliver their events directly and cut out the networks. Most of the channels do not have major operational IT expertise, and this provides an opening for an entire industry of new service providers and video clouds.
Gilles FONTAINE's Biography
Gilles FONTAINE is IDATE's Deputy CEO and is also in charge of IDATE Business Unit dedicated to media and digital content. During its 20 years experience in the Media sector, Gilles Fontaine has become an expert of the media economics and of the impact of Internet on content. He directed numerous studies for both public and private clients, including the EC, governments and local authorities, telcos and TV channels. Recent assignments have included a participation in the future MEDIA programme ex-ante assessment, the analysis of new video internet services economics, a long term forecast project on the future of television. He has also monitored the impact of digitization and online distribution on other media, radio, press and music. Mr. Fontaine holds a degree from the highly reputed French business school, HEC (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, 1983) and from the Institut MultiMédias (1984).
Eli NOAM's Biography
Eli NOAM has been Professor of Economics and Finance at the Columbia Business School since 1976. In 1990, after having served for three years as Commissioner with the New York State Public Service Commission, he returned to Columbia. Noam is the Director of CITI. He also served on the White House's President's IT Advisory Council. Besides the over 400 articles in economics, legal, communications, and other journals that Professor Noam has written on subjects such as communications, information, public choice, public finance, and general regulation, he has also authored, edited, and co-edited 28 books. Noam has served on the editorial boards of Columbia University Press as well as of a dozen academic journals, and on corporate and non-profit boards. He was a regular columnist on the new economy for the Financial Times online. He is a member of the Council for Foreign Relations. He received AB, AM, Ph.D. (Economics) and JD degrees, all from Harvard. He was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Munich (2006) and the University of Marseilles (2008).
Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 92, 4th Quarter 2013
- For more information about our activities: www.comstrat.org
COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES