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Bram Cohen - Cultural Industries in the Age of Digital Reproduction
San Francisco, April 2007 
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Cohen discusses technological trends and how changes in the cost of production and distribution are playing out in the areas of music, film and computer gaming. He analyzes how the respective business models of those industries leave them with different possibilities to adapt to the new environment.

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00:00:05 While we're studying trends
00:00:08 there are a lot of trends to look at.
00:00:10 Currently the cost of disc drives is plummeting
00:00:15 and has been plummeting at a truly ludicrous rate.
00:00:20 However the speed of internet connections hasn't been growing anywhere near as fast.
00:00:24 To the point where drives have been getting cheaper
00:00:29 but not bigger as fast as you might expect
00:00:31 simply because people can't fill them.
00:00:36 They can't download enough stuff to fill them.
00:00:39 At some point you can download anything instantly.
00:00:42 However, for starters you can move up to HD quality video
00:00:50 for everything that you watch
00:00:52 which people are definitely going to want to do.
00:00:54 And that gets you a couple more years of net connections
00:00:57 not being anywhere near fast enough.
00:01:00 And you can possibly go up higher than that.
00:01:07 There are a number of other trends going on.
00:01:09 The costs of production of all kinds of things are definitely going down
00:01:16 The costs of production of audio have already pretty much bottomed-out,
00:01:22 in that the equipment costs so little it's ridiculous
00:01:27 And mostly when you're recording something your primary concern
00:01:31 is getting a decent sound-proof room
00:01:34 and most people have one of those in their house already
00:01:39 and the toilet doesn't really distort the sound too much.
00:01:43 So the recording industry is having this problem now
00:01:47 that new artists know that they don't want to get signed.
00:01:53 And they've read the various essays talking
00:01:56 about what an incredibly bad deal getting signed can really wind up being.
00:02:03 And they have their music themselves and they're distributing it online
00:02:08 which is pretty good for them, not so good for the people who are traditionally resellers.
00:02:15 They have a problem.
00:02:19 So, in the case of... now that doesn't mean that music isn't getting produced --
00:02:25 quite the contrary, tonnes of music is getting produced
00:02:28 and lots of people who would otherwise have trouble reaching an audience
00:02:36 via their music can because in the past you were completely beholden
00:02:41 to what you could possibly get played on the radio
00:02:43 and now you can just
00:02:44 put your stuff online and lots and lots
00:02:47 of bands are getting followings that way, however
00:02:50 the traditional industry of how music is distributed
00:02:57 is having to reorganize.
00:03:02 Now in the case of video, costs are definitely going down
00:03:09 not as much as in the case of audio
00:03:12 but things are shuffling around in interesting ways.
00:03:16 Right now reality television is getting very popular.
00:03:20 I personally am rather fond of just about the trashiest
00:03:25 reality television you could possibly find
00:03:30 Now this sort of seems like it's a great innovation in narrative form,
00:03:37 which, it more or less is.
00:03:40 However there is something else going on here
00:03:42 which is that the cost of film is getting very very cheap.
00:03:49 So in the past, film was so incredibly expensive, inherently
00:03:56 that you would never dream of having people literally goof off
00:04:01 in front of it in the hopes that they did something interesting.
00:04:05 And now it's gotten so cheap
00:04:06 that you can do exactually that.
00:04:09 And all of a sudden the big problem is editing this mass of garbage
00:04:14 down into something compelling.
00:04:18 So that hasn't actually made overall costs of production
00:04:23 that much cheaper
00:04:23 but it's definitely shuffled things around quite a bit
00:04:28 We've also seen some other interesting trends
00:04:31 that product placement is getting much much more prominent
00:04:34 than it has been in the past
00:04:37 It's not at the point yet of... with some exceptions
00:04:41 but for the most part it's not at the point of literally
00:04:43 making something just for the product placement,
00:04:45 but it might very well get there.
00:04:48 It sure looks like it's close with some of the things I've seen lately.
00:04:54 Now, in the case of games that's very interesting
00:04:58 because games basically has it all figured out.
00:05:02 In games whatever client software runs, by and large
00:05:06 you can just download and run.
00:05:08 The problem is, for a consumer, software doesn't do much unless it's talking
00:05:13 to the central service.
00:05:15 If it's not connected to the service it's not much of a game.
00:05:17 There's no interaction with other people.
00:05:19 There's no getting critical information about what is happening to you
00:05:22 as you're playing. You basically can't play, and the whole entire games industry
00:05:27 was traditionally based off of people writing all this stuff
00:05:32 and having a few really big hits and most of them are failures.
00:05:35 And it's mostly continued to be the very same thing.
00:05:40 It's run off of a few really big hits.
00:05:42 And most of them are failures
00:05:44 and the main shift has been there's an online play component
00:05:47 which has been very compelling
00:05:49 Users love it, it adds a whole new dimension to the experience
00:05:52 but it also makes it straight forward to have scarcity in it.
00:05:58 It makes it easy to charge people to play the game.
00:06:01 And interestingly the thing that people are afraid of happening
00:06:06 to video has had the exact opposite thing happen in games
00:06:12 in that people are worried about not being able to get together the money
00:06:17 to have the sorts of productions we've had in the past for video.
00:06:22 Now it's not like that's unprecedented.
00:06:25 Live performances had budgets in the past which
00:06:30 just will never happen again.
00:06:34 But if games are any indication the exact opposite thing might happen
00:06:39 and there are games that cost over a hundred million dollars now
00:06:42 which is phenomenal, it's just astounding.
00:06:45 In the past when I was a kid a game was two people
00:06:48 for 6 months. And they make a game.
00:06:53 The change is not necessarily all good
00:06:56 Games look a lot better, they look a lot more polished, they have a lot more
00:07:00 production values but the amount of innovation in game engines has just plummeted,
00:07:05 there's very very little left because if you're going to
00:07:08 spend tens of millions of dollars making a game
00:07:11 you're not going to use some experimental game engine
00:07:14 which might or might not work
00:07:15 you're going to use something which you know works.
00:07:20 And with a few notable exceptions that's by and large what everybody does.