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Shocking News: Water Wet

After extensive research, we can reveal the shocking result:

If you refuse to sell things to people, they won’t pay for them.

Vice versa, if you make things available to sell, many people will buy them.

The UK’s media regulator, OFCOM, have announced that streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon are now more popular than satellite and cable TV, as reported here: Piracy Audiences Are Untapped Pools of Wealth.

A Practical Example

The best recent example of this mechanism in action is with the excellent SF show The Expanse. This was originally on the US SYFY channel, but after three seasons, the show was due to be cancelled.

The cancellation decision by Syfy is said to be linked to the nature of its agreement for the series, which only gives the cable network first-run linear rights in the U.S. That puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on live, linear viewing, which is inherently challenging for sci-fi/genre series that tend to draw the lion’s share of their audiences from digital/streaming.

Let’s emphasise that point: Syfy was reliant on live, linear viewing, and only in the US. Time-shift it, and it doesn’t count. Outside the US, and it doesn’t count. Downloaders definitely don’t count. Syfy were basically running a race in shackles, and they were only able to get as far as they did on the strength of some pretty outstanding content. As the novelty waned, though, this quality bonus stopped working quite as well.

Once the problem became clear, the logical next step was to ask the streaming services to step in, backed by a massive fan-led campaign to Save The Expanse. The lobbying was ultimately successful, with The Expanse coming to Amazon Prime.

Amazon is of course best placed to tap into that revenue stream from fans of both non-linear TV and The Expanse – not to mention international fans. Just because a show is only broadcast in the US doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a huge international fan base – so why not monetise those non-US viewers? Because they are viewing…

Out In The Provinces

One of the big reasons for non-US-residents to adopt streaming services is to get access to US TV shows, or get access more promptly. In the US, this mechanism may be less apparent, but anywhere outside that content market, it has always been a major annoyance that we get films and TV shows six months later, perhaps with egregious dubbing too – or maybe we don’t get them at all.

The same mechanism operates to a lesser degree elsewhere, as I have written before:

I get much of what the BBC broadcasts through my cable subscription one way or another, whether it’s through the BBC’s own channels, or on other networks like Discovery that license BBC content such as Top Gear. Sky then pays Discovery for that content - so far so good. The problem is that I get that content months late and often with annoying dubs or subtitles that can’t be removed - despite the Sky platform’s pretty good support for multiple audio and subtitle options on broadcast content.

This means that I end up ahem obtaining content through other channels so that I can watch it within a few days of the air date instead of much later, and with the English audio and no subtitles instead of both audio tracks at once, which happens far too often. I used to do this for Top Gear all the time, and recently I did it for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I would gladly have paid for both of these, but I could not find a way to do it. While JS&MN is now in the iTunes store, it’s only in the UK and US iTunes stores. I am restricted to the Italian iTunes store, because Apple in their wisdom force you to use the store in the same country as your credit card’s billing address.

The result? Instead of paying the BBC directly, or paying the BBC via Apple, I pirated the content - because that was not only free and very easy, it was literally the only way I could get it.

The only thing that has changed since I wrote that piece is that I no longer have cable TV. Instead, I have subscriptions to both Netflix and Amazon Prime, which cover almost all of my family’s requirements – except, still, for the BBC. I probably would cough up a reasonable amount for an iPlayer subscription, as there is a lot of quality content on there, but this is not even an option to me outside the UK.

Eventually these geographic restrictions must fall – but until then, people will find a way to get content, which means content producers and distributors are leaving money on the table. The first to embrace this new reality will see the greatest returns. The last? Nobody will hear about them any more.

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash


Working in cloud computing is extremely frustrating. Nobody outside the field understands what you do no matter how much you try to explain, and everybody in it thinks they already do before you get a chance to explain.

One of my favourite metaphors to try to break this impasse is to talk about fleets of aircraft. The Bad Old Way of doing things in IT is a bit like a company operating a huge fleet of private jets, one for each employee that ever needs to travel anywhere. Obviously extravagant and impractical, right? The planes are idle for much of the time while the people are doing whatever they travelled to do, and you can't easily make them bigger if you need to transport a larger team somewhere. The thing is, that's pretty much how we all approached IT until not so long ago: each workload got its own dedicated infrastructure, which was idle much of the time and very difficult to resize or reassign in response to changing requirements. Virtualization didn't really help, except as a band-aid over the problem.

Cloud computing is more like having lots of different commercial carriers, each with different classes of service, routes, amenities and other offerings, with passengers (workloads) choosing supplier and service based on their requirements of the moment.

As much as it is about anything, cloud computing is about impermanence. When you buy physical hardware, you own it, it's right there. The canonical definition of hardware is "the part that you can kick". (Software, then, is the part that makes you want to kick the hardware.) These days, people who like their IT to be tangible are disparaged as "server huggers". The whole point of cloud computing is that if something breaks you don't worry about trying to fix it, you just get a new one, which will be the same as the original. Randy Bias coined the phrase "cattle, not pets": you don't give the servers names and pamper them as individuals, you give them numbers and put them down as soon as it's convenient.

The dark side of this impermanence, though, is: what happens to the data in this new world of transience? When your cloud provider shuts down, what happens to everything that you entrusted them with over the years? What happens when data disappears?

It’s a nightmare for libraries. What do you do if you’re given a chunk of priceless digital manuscripts - stored on totally obsolete media? The trove might include video games by Timothy Leary and digital drawings by Keith Haring, or versions of famous Broadway shows, or, well, anything really.

On the other hand, the cloud can also be the solution. If you need to read a document created on some obsolete system that you no longer own or can even buy, perhaps you can emulate it in the cloud. JSMESS is a project to port the MESS emulator to Javascript so that it will run in a browser. Right now it will emulate thirty-year-old kit with middling results, but as is the way of things, I have little doubt that before too long it will be able to emulate Windows 95 running Word Whatever.

Why do you care? We are now living through what will doubtlessly be known as a Dark Age to future historians. A relative of mine wrote a book about his experiences in South Africa around the turn of the Twentieth Century. I doubt there are many copies around, but the family has one, and so I was able to read about how my relative was there for the founding of some of the institutions of modern South Africa, and his efforts to make it a better place.

It is very hard to imagine that happening today. Nobody keeps a physical written diary that could be found in an attic, we write about our daily experiences on Facebook. Even when we do have local documents, they are saved in particular formats that will be very difficult or impossible to read a handful of years from now, never mind a century on. Version requirements, compatibility and dependencies, not to mention digital rights management, will see to that.

Imagine though if you come across a trove of Grandpa's ancient backups, and you could boot something up right in your browser to read them. You might solve that inheritance dispute, or smile at his old love letters to Grandma.

Imagine if you're in charge of a business and you suddenly realise you can't access your documents that are more than a few years old. What does that do to your billing, your credibility, not to mention your legal liability? Sure, you can print everything off and ship it to Iron Mountain or wherever, but the latency on accessing data held in that kind of facility would give your average Millenial conniptions.

If you're a developer or a provider building something for the cloud - which these days means all providers and developers who plan to be around more than a couple of years from now - take this into account. How do users get at their stuff tomorrow, even if you're not around? Sure, you're busy building something cool, but this is foundational. If you build it right, ensuring accessibility in the future should be easy. If it looks too hard, you're probably doing something else wrong.

If you're a user of cloud services - and once again, that pretty much means "a user" - try to take a moment to look into getting your data back. If I store my photos here, how can I download them? If I create a blog there, how can I save my posts? If my business relies on a certain service, what is my emergency spare backup plan if that service goes away or simply changes in a way that breaks it for me?

You can't rely on the Archive Team to do it for you. If you want permanence, it takes a moment of effort.

Image by Joeri Romer via Unsplash