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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Entertainment Industry: Stop Whinging and Start Planning

It really is quite pathetic to see The Daily Telegraph turned in a lobbying sheet for the Entertainment Industry for access to free or discounted spectrum. They have now published two articles in recent days threatening a complete imminent collapse of civilisation, if free spectrum isn’t handed out on a platter to more undeserving causes.

I would recommend people in the entertainment industry should think how lucky they have been in the past to get access to spectrum for so little cost and start planning how they can minimise costs in the future. OFCOM are quite explicit in that the fees raised don’t even cover the bureaucratic cost. So not only does the entertainment industry get free spectrum, but the bureaucracy is subsidised by the average UK taxpayer. This seems an obviously untenable situation to me.

Basically, OFCOM are proposing the privatisation of the functions currently held by the privately owned (ITV and some Commercial Radio Stations) JFMG. I don’t have any theoretical problem with this. Some entrepreneur somewhere will realise that expensive contiguous spectrum is not necessary and “cheaper” interleaved low-power spectrum will work just fine for individual theatres and venues. Some theatres and venues will be worrying about potential overcharging for the spectrum if a single bidder captures the entire spectrum. An embryonic market will emerge rather than the current bureaucratic nightmare…

I love that Lord Lloyd-Weber is getting involved with the lobbying effort. This multi-multi-millionaire will be really usefully struggling in explaining away the dichotomy between theatres running on a knife edge and rapidly growing size of his wallet. If he cares so much about free spectrum to theatres then perhaps he should personally subsidise it, because I don’t want to as a UK taxpayer.

I think the problem is that there is a certain amount of scaremongering going-on about the potential for a runaway auction. And even if there is a runaway auction, then there is plenty of other spectrum about which could potentially provide a solution. There is even 1.2Mhz of unlicensed spectrum available in the VHF band. This could provide huge amounts of audio bandwidth with properly designed DIGITAL equipment.

If we distinguish the lobbying noise from the reality:
"Approximately 64,000 individual PMSE frequency assignments are made to around 1,300 different organisations and individuals each year. The usage is skewed towards larger users. Just 50 of these account for 50% of all spectrum, with the BBC alone accounting for 13%."
I love the comment from JFMG’s managing director:
''There will not be a hope in hell's chance of doing a TV show like How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria and then resourcing the show at the London Palladium."
What a nerve from the guy whose current state-subsidised existence is under threat to draw a parallel with trash like “How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria” which has already benefited from vast sums of state subsidy in cast selection and free publicity from that more well-known pseudo-public benefit company, the BBC. Did he mention the biggest consumer of PMSE spectrum is the outside broadcasts for the large media companies? No, of course not. The ownership of JFMG should give a clue about who is the main recipient of this partcular gravy train.

I can guarantee that if you ask your average Joe Bloggs whether he would prefer cheaper mobile calls, cheaper wireless broadband, more choice on TV & Radio or cheaper West End Shows for Tourists, he wouldn’t pick cheaper West End Shows.

For people interested in a less sensationalist discussion of the issues involved, there is a rather large pdf document from Quotient Associates called "Supply and Demand of spectrum for Programme Making and Special Events in the UK" which is available from the OFCOM Digital Dividend Review Site