Friday, April 27, 2007

The End-User: In media, we distrust

The End-User: In media, we distrust
By Victoria Shannon

PARIS: Happy World Intellectual Property Day! Yes, it's that time of year again, April 26, when we all pause to give silent thanks for the rules and regulations over the creative branches of human activity.

You mean you have yet to raise your voice today in praise of copyrights, patents and trademarks? You aren't alone. Professionals in the arts, entertainment and media businesses, whose livelihood intellectual property rights are designed in part to protect, aren't exactly celebrating, either.

They have little to be happy about, with those rules and regulations being flouted around the world - when their music, films, writings, design innovations and original software are being digitized, replicated and poured freely into the open arms of the Internet or sold cheaply on the street.

Recent studies suggest that the media and entertainment industries have only themselves to blame. Asked to rank their level of trust in a dozen industries ranging from insurance to health care, respondents around the world invariably put media and entertainment dead last, according to Edelman, the U.S. public relations and consulting company that conducted the surveys.

The technology industry, meanwhile, comes out consistently at No. 1 or No. 2.

In follow-up studies in Britain and France of consumers under 35 years old, the world's first generation of "digital natives," the company found that many say they will not buy an entertainment company's products because they don't believe they are getting good value for their money. Four out of 10 in Britain said that, while more than half did so in France.

In a world where pirated material can be had free or for next to nothing, "value for money" takes on a new dimension: What value is a record company giving me when I pay full price for a CD, for instance, compared with when it's free?

Gail Becker, head of Edelman's digital entertainment practice in Los Angeles, acknowledged that the message from young adults about value was not a particular surprise. The lesson for companies that want to change that perception is not to emphasize the "money" side but the "value" side, she said.

"They need to communicate the message that their products, bought legitimately, don't give the family computers any viruses," she said, "that the sound quality is better, that you can get extras like the music video with it."

For me, the biggest revelation out of Edelman's "trust" survey was the high ranking of the technology industry around the world, where it is almost without exception ranked as the most trusted on the list.

Becker said Edelman attributed that result to three causes: Technology is a "clean" industry that is not perceived as particularly scandalous or bad for society; it is seen as making our lives better, or at least more productive; and, for investors, tech companies are seen as sources of financial rewards.

What perplexes me is how those factors overcome the fact that technology companies also continuously promise more than they deliver; that their products often seem designed for engineers rather than end-users; and that many of them are practically entertainment companies themselves - Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. - which should earn them a poor trust rating.

Despite the gloom of this World Intellectual Property Day, Becker sees some signs of encouragement for the entertainment industry. For instance, 59 percent of survey respondents in France and 69 percent in Britain said they trusted entertainment companies to make content widely and legally available online.

"The message about legal availability is coming through," she said. "When I think about how recently the complaint was that they were making it hard to find legal music for sale online, this is really progress."

The next step is making a dent in the industry's trustworthiness problem, she said.

"The industry can build trust by leading, or being seen as leading, the revolution in entertainment distribution by leading the change in business models," Becker said.