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By Dennis Kneale
Long before the Internet began delivering infinite information, instantly, at our fingertips, The Wall Street Journal relied on one pulse-point for most incoming news—the Spot News Desk in New York. There an editor scrambled to keep up with incoming faxes and wire service reports, fearful of missing an important headline. Long after deadline, he would pore over reams of copy, “just checking to see if anything is likely to blow up in my face tomorrow morning.”
Rights management is like that—you hear about it only when something blows up in someone’s face. For example, an NBA game plays on your flat-screen at home but won’t show up on your iPad; or a TV program can’t air in some markets in Europe because of missing rights to an in-episode song; or a channel has permission to air a movie 30 times but uses it for only 25 plays. In all of those cases, rights management suddenly becomes visible—because something went wrong.
When things really go wrong, you end up with a dreaded story in The Hollywood Reporter, as when Netflix rolled out service across several countries in Europe without its hallmark House of Cards. That happened because Netflix didn’t have the right rights. The 1.6 million Netflix subscribers in the Netherlands won’t get House of Cards because those rights belong to Sky Deutschland. In France, 1.2 million Netflix subscribers must turn to CANAL+, which holds an exclusive lock on the first two seasons of the dark political soap. And although Netflix has begun renting out DVDs of Game of Thrones, Sky holds those rights in the Netherlands and Orange holds them in France. (You can read it and weep here: Why Netflix Subscribers in Europe Won’t Get ‘House of Cards’.)
It doesn’t have to be this way, guys. Myriad media companies are reaping upside rewards from codifying, digitizing, and overhauling their rights-management systems. By some sanguine (or wild-eyed) estimates, these companies are getting back $6 or $7 in revenue or other gains for every dollar invested in their new platforms—and some experts maintain that return is up to 20 bucks-per-dollar.
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