Music streaming, monopolies, interopability & the chaos monkey

“The reality is a single stream only amounts to 0.003p, which means I would need millions of streams to earn at least the minimum wage”
Ayanna Witter-Johnson, singer-songwriter

Last weekend The Guardian published some great insights from 25 figures across the music world around the state of subscription-streaming, as Spotify passes 155 million Premium subscribers and ahead of a report into Music streaming. While many called on Spotify to pay more, some were complimentary – and the bulk of frustrations were royalty splits with record labels and publishers, as well as a general lack of transparency. I've pulled out some of the highlights:

“Many artists have recording contracts that reflect physical rather than digital distribution. Before the internet came along, artists were willing to give record labels the lion’s share of the royalties because they did all the heavy lifting: pressing the records, distributing them to shops, collecting royalties. Standard contracts divided profits 85% to 15% in favour of the labels… [but today] most releases are made available by the click of a mouse.”
Billy Bragg

Crispin Hunt, director of the Ivor Novello awards agreed: “the reality is that the major labels are still controlling it as if it were still a manufacturing industry and it isn’t anymore, they’re a marketing industry”. Bragg calls for an industry-wide 50-50 digital royalty split between artist and label, while Gomez’s Tom Gray says “we need a limit of 25 years on recording contracts” so people can get out of deals made in the physical era.

But no other industry would give 50%, let alone 85%, royalty to a marketing agency. This opens up the broader question of what’s a modern label? Is it providing debt finance to record and market an album? Or is it more like an equity investor in an artists’ future copyrights? That analogy fails as what kind of VC invest in a business that depended on the CEO working minimum wage.

Given how much new revenue the major labels can make from the back catalogues through Spotify/etc (“It has drastically increased our royalty payments to artists for releases years ago” said Giles Peterson), it’s hard to see how they can justify continuing to take such large fees from current signed artists who are struggling. But if artists with large back catalogues benefit, then majors with many artists with back catologues are making record profits after years of decline, Labels “making so much money at the moment that they think this is going to last forever, but the problem they’re going to have is that a career as a musician is not going to be viable any more” said Steve Mason of the Beta Band.

Songwriters left out

There’s a further question around splits between publishers (representing copyright for the songwriters) and labels (representing the performers in the recording). “The contractual relationships between the major record companies and artists/songwriters need to be reviewed… the revenue taken by a master holder/record label is 58.5p out of every pound, whereas the writer/publisher gets only 11.5p.” said Merck Mercuriadis, CEO and founder of Hipgnosis Songs Fund.

“If a singer releases a cover of a hit song, they’ll earn up to 10 times more from it than the writer will. Record labels get about 55% of streaming platform income because they historically had large overheads for their physical products, while publishers only get about 15%. Songwriters are still trapped in this archaic model, ending up with a tiny percentage of the publishers’ 15% by the time everyone else has taken their cut along the way.”
Fiona Bevan, songwriter

Jazz musician Orphy Robinson proposed a new four-way split:

“I think there has to be an even four-way split – between the labels, the artists, the publisher and the streaming company. In the last year we’ve heard about how the majors have made these amazing profits but some of the songwriters – the people who provide the product – are starving… We hear horror stories about people with hundreds of thousands of streams, but when the revenue from that is all broken down between a band and their management they make nothing”

Not-so-open data

"We don’t even know what a stream is worth and there’s no way you could even find out what a stream is worth, and that’s not the basis for a satisfactory relationship.”
Nile Rodgers

What was most of suprise to me in the interviews was that, according to songwriter Imogen Williams, “while remuneration is the obvious argument, the lack of transparency is of equal concern”. There are no legal obligations on Spotify or the labels to not only publish data but even to know who to pay when they put a track online.

“When I look at the way streaming works, I feel like I’ve opened the bonnet of a car and there’s no engine in there. There are all of these cables hanging out, and the key missing part would be a system for the streaming platforms to accumulate and to get simple information such as who wrote what song, because at the moment there’s no requirement for the label. They can put up a song without knowing who should get paid for it. There needs to be a minimum data requirement for submitting a song to Spotify. Or simply, Spotify should not publish or feature any song that doesn’t have all the information needed.”
Helienne Lindvall, songwriter

This seems like low-hanging fruit to fix in the short term. "The government needs to regulate the data" said Crispin Hunt, musician and chair of the Ivors Academy. "They need to make sure that you can’t put anything up on a streaming platform without knowing who to pay for it. There’s no way that the record label should be able to put a track on the streaming platform without knowing who the songwriters are.”

It's worth looking at the interviews in full, over at The G, they even highlighted the threat of Spotify to the Jazz solo and long instrumental. In Orpjy Robinson's words:

"People are saying because of the nature of what we do, and the art that we create, we’re going to have to change it to fit into Spotify playlists, which value songs that are shorter and don’t have long intros. Some jazz musicians I know are saying: ‘Should we make something that is two-and-a-half minutes long?’

Which seems a good time to pivot to Web Monetization - which pays content creators in constant stream, rather than a fixed fee per play.

Web Monetization update

As mentioned previously – I've been testing it here for a few months. Checking my Uphold wallet tied to Netribution just now, it stands at £5.03, from 8 visitors with a wallet (not necessarily 8 unique visitors). And elsewhere, generated £0.48, £0.06 and – the only site where I've hosted video – £10.61. Although over half of this is from the rising value of the cryptocurrency currency (Ripple) that Uphold stores my balance in, it’s far more than I ever imaged for some very quiet and barely public websites.

So while Coil’s payout of $0.36/hour isn’t so much money for a single 4 minute track (2.4c/1.7p) compared to the 99c cost of an old iTunes download, it’s many factors higher than the average payout from a stream from Spotify, and it rewards long-form.

The other key attribute of Web Monetization is it’s interoperable by design: any website can implement it and start earning from Monetization subscribers, which seems a pivot to…

Doctorow on Interoperability…

“Interoperability is the default state of the world. Anyone’s charcoal will burn in your barbecue, just as anyone’s gas will make your car go. Any manufacturer can make a light bulb that fits in your light socket, and any shoes can be worn with any socks.“

Cory Doctorow, who has been on great Twitter form of late (if you indulge the interspersed bursts of retro-futurism, Disneyland history and strange adverts of old) – has updated what he describes as one of his most important pieces of writing in 13 years from last year, following on from the Oracle/Google Supreme Court ruling. In Unfair Use: Anti-Interoperability and Our Dwindling Digital Freedom he presents vividly how Web Monopolies form, and how they undermine the basic principles of good design the rest of our lives take for granted.

“Leaving Facebook in the 21st century is like my grandmother leaving the USSR in the 40s. You can go, but your friends and loved ones are all held hostage behind Zuckerberg’s Iron Curtain, so leaving Facebook means leaving your communities, your relationships."

One one level, he doesn't blame the monopoloies for behaving as their shareholders expect: “the more freedom you have to leave Google, the bigger a risk you pres­ent to Google“ – but he's merciless to them in their self-perception as chief disrupters of vested interests: "where tech is challenging [existing] monopolies, it is doing so in order to create more monopolies“. And these monopolies are protected in ways that previous monopolies could only dream of; "any attempt to interoperate with an existing product service with­out permission from its corporate master is a legal suicide mission, an invitation to almost unlimited civil — and even criminal — litigation"

Interoperability, he explains, is the key concept that regulators, legislators and conscious consumers should focus on to try to build a better web and world.

"Writ large, interoperability encompasses things like democracy. When someone says they like their city but not its bylaws, we don’t tell them that the law is the law and the home comes with these bylaws in a package. Instead, we [in liberal democracies - edit] set out processes for amending or repealing laws that chafe the people they govern. If you fail in your bid to reform your city’s laws, you can also move to another city without having to surrender the possessions in your home or your social relations with your old neighbors. Interoper­ability lets you replace the laws and keep your house, or replace your house and find new laws."

Modern technology that isn't explicitly open source on the other hand not only prevents the users from this freedom, it punishes those who perform helpful and environmentally-important services, like repairing your iPhone. And with this comes the third and final pivot, to a tech company, who with over 200 million paying subscribers and a mostly proprietary system is kind of the opposite of interoperable…

Netflix, microservices and a chaos monkey

But Netflix's use of Microservices, as presented in this really clear, albeit tech-heavy presentation from 2016 by Engineering Leader Josh Evans, struck me as a story about how big and stable software development over the last few years has shifted from huge central 'monopolies' of code to a web of small, autonomous, interoperable 'microservices'. It's like a model of the distributed web. The success of the whole system depends on no single service, and can cope with most of them falling down during production.

Evans further explained how software reflects the culture that creates it with Conway's law Conway’s Law – “organisations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organisations”. Or simpler put, ‘Any piece of software reflects the organisational structure that produced it’. There's lots in his talk including mention Netflix's chaos monkey – an open source tool they've built to randomly make parts of their system to fail so as to ensure "that engineers implement their services to be resilient to instance failures". It was hard not to think of the virus sized chaos monkey rampaging the planet at present checking and challenging the resilience of everything from information networks, welfare systems and health funding, to supply chains, international cooperation and human behavioural adaptability – or how this has revealed greater vulnerabilities and far worse fatality rates in the UK & US, than Africa or India.


"Old Man Shakes Fist at Algorythm", but Scorsese has a point, and is WebMo an answer?

So I finally hit the big time and moved up a decimal place in my daily Web Monetization payouts.

As I mentioned last month I've added Web Monetization here and a few other sites (, – my work site, and After a daily trickle of a penny or two, I got an email on the 15th "You received 1.77612 XRP from Interledger Network", which based on today's price of the cryptocurrency XRP/Ripple (another blogpost), is $0.98. Because reporting is currently pretty basic with WebMo (to avoid the z/s issue and use fewer characters?), I can't be 100% sure, but I think it came from one link, in one one forum comment by Mark Boas here from the day before, pointing to this page, where I'm using Mark's Hyperaudio to link the video from an event I helped organise last year, to its transcript. A dollar from one external link in one day is more than I would have expected, given the only people currently with Coil subscriptions I know are people testing out the technology.

Much to my shame I'm late to signup to Mubi.

There's already so much to see on Netflix, and once you add Prime, iPlayer if you're in the UK, then that NowTV sub hanging around since the GoT finale the proved worthwhile when Chernobyl came out - and finally Disney Plus because their films aren't anywhere else. I never got round to adding Mubi because, I proclaimed, I didn't have time – but it's might be more to wanting to get my junk food entertainment fix over 'serious cinema'. Mubi is the closest in lockdown of visiting a good film festival where you're presented with a choice of films most of whom I've not heard of, seasons by directors I've maybe only seen one of, strands and themes, and programme notes. It's personal and clearly not generated by algorithms – and all the better for it – Netflix seemed to take years to learn that just because I'd watched Stranger Things I don't share the US obsession with TV set at high-school (although Ragnorok was rather splended and is keeping me hungry for season 2). Amazon still hasn't picked up on the fact I've never watched one episode of Top Gear. Highlights so far include Pablo Larain's Ema, Todd Solonz's Weiner Dog and revisiting Michael Mann's Heat after a few decade's absence.

So when Martin Scorsese claimed recently that alrgorithmic curation was undermining the art of cinema, and devaluing us the audience to mere content consumers and 'eyeballs' I was surprised to see any serious disagreement. The films on Mubi are not for mass audiences, but the personalisation improves the experience many times over. And it's clear what people love about the Influencers they follow on YouTube, is that personal perspective. The director of Casino, the King of Comedy and Kundun made a reasonable point, was quickly reduced to 'old man shouts at technology he doesn't understand' by people maybe still hurt he'd dare suggest Marvel films weren't the pinacle of cinema. Even the BBC played along - look at their choice of photos topping their article on the subject (crotchety old man vs happy couple just wanting to enjoy watching something).

But maybe part of the backlash is the same as I get when I tell an open source developer I don't like something about an interface that is way beyond their control – it's all very well being a critic, but what's the answer? (There's probably also some of what Jaron Lannier has raised in recent years in the social media storms – that those of us using those platforms daily are addicted, so we show many of the side effects - short-temperedness, impatience, mood-swings, etc – associated with addiction). Because any centralised curatorial system – even Mubi – is going to hit limits. You might have your favourite film festival – but would you want only that film festival choosing what was shown around the world?

Web Monetisation allows for a single subscription to exist across multiple websites.

If we suffering from a lack of human curation – from a bigger diversity of people than any one streaming platform's buyers and editors could ever offer – WebMo presents a future where a single subscription can have potentially unlimited curators. While it doesn't yet have an infrastructure for high-end feature film distribution and revenue collection, in principle, I could of an evening watch films recommended and presented by my old local cinema the Rio, or the Krakow Film Festival, or Steven Soderbergh's Twitter feed. My subscription would still be with the same provider – be it Coil, or Mubi, Netflix, or even my BBC License Fee or Guardian subscription – but it travels with me, letting me invisibly pay for films as I travel around the web.

Obviously this is a long way off for most feature films – but for shorts, archive, world-cinema, obscure and undistributed films that can't be found on any of the big subscription services, there's a clear gap between watching it free and unofficially on Vimeo/YouTube, and pay-per-view. On which subject there was an interesting story in the last few weeks about sometimes Netribution blogger Dan Hartley, the 'Rogue Runner' – his film Lad: A Yorkshire Story, has just after 10 years found viral success after someone posted it to YouTube – and is now doing really well on Prime (as covered here on BBC Breakfast).

NB - An update on other Netribution writers creative projects: Elio Espana (behind the launch issue Soderbergh interview, 21 years ago) now has a blog at Medium – and Suchandrika Chakrabarti has a newsletter and a great podcast for freelancers - now at edition 48.


Why TV's lack of an innovation strategy is a growing problem

Great Global Bake Off - title cardsI'm pretty new to TV, drawn like many by the existence of a business model far superior than film. With TV you can cover up to 80% of your budget on the first commission potentially, sell one other territory (or find gap finance) and from then every subsequent sale is profit. After two years typically in the UK, the rights can revert to you forever, Great British Bake-off can sell to the highest bidder. And in the UK as an indie, the format rights are yours to sell for remakes around the world, so Ver Firina in Turkey, or Le Meilleur Pattisier in France can keep pushing profits higher.

But coming into the TV world after a long spell in tech and even longer observing from the sidelines of film, I'm amazed at how rigid it seems. Peers with a huge slate of feature docs behind them are told they have to start nearly at the beginning, their film success bears little impact on how long it will take for them to be producer/director. Commissioners seem to want to see exact replicas of existing hits, by people with track records. Sales are made by describing how exactly your show is like an existing successful show or strand.

Of course there's exceptions to this, and new concepts do often appear. But these typically come from seasoned hands in the industry, not new entrants. If you want to innovate as a newcomer, sign up to YouTube. 

Compare this with the tech startup world. Provided their team looks competent enough, new entrants can get finance for any level of innovative idea. There's still finance for established concepts or remakes (the 'Uber of India' or 'the ARM of smart-watch chips') but a completely new idea can fly simply if it sounds convincing and the team have proven they're competent.

The problem may be classic too-deep management hierarchy – large multi-national media companies own super-indies, who own production companies, with their own experience-led hierarchies. The freedom for innovation at each level is reduced by the high cost of failure for the individuals concerned. For almost everyone involved, it's not *their* company, and if they back a dud, they could be fired. It seems much closer to the studio system with a tough, competitive environment that doesn't tolerate failure.

If it aint broke…

Still, this is how TV has long worked, so it could be argued, if it aint broke, why fix it?

For as long as there weren't innovation platforms for TV, the system worked ok, but now we have YouTube. A feminist analysis of video games may never get commissioned conventionally. Online, Feminist Frequency's Video Game Tropes is a storming success, getting 25 million views, 700k Twitter followers and raising $168k on Kickstarter. Vice has pivoted a sub-culture magazine into a multi-billion dollar company, part-owned by Disney, in recognising early the huge hunger of younger ‘millennials' for fresh voices and approaches.

Of course many YouTube channels imitate the formats and styles of trad-TV, but the most popular tend to look and sound like nothing you could find on TV. The more different the better, provided it meets the basic needs of being engaging and sufficiently well produced. The main problem is that advertising revenues from YouTube are pitiful – millions of views can translate into barely a few hours pay at Equity rates.

Worse, the message from MIPTV earlier this year was even YouTube ads weren’t safe. Laura Henderson, Global Head of Content & Media Monetization at Mondolez International (ie Kraft, Cadbury, Milka, Kenco, etc) explained "consumers are in the driving seat – they're skipping ads, blocking ads". Advertisers see neither trad-TV or YouTube as a safe or cost-effective means to reach their traditional consumers. "Cost per reach point is rising exponentially" she explained. So advertisers are looking ever more seriously at producing their own content. Branded content, co-produced by the brand, is growing so fast YouTube keeps changing its rules about creators' brand relationships, recognising it was a form of advertising on their platform they were unable to monetise. 

I wrote about Branded Content for Moviescope after my first trip to MIP in 2014, and by 2016 it was an even bigger story, making up an ever growing chunk of Vice's production output. There's countless examples. Mondolez created the Sour Patch House, where musicians could stay for free provided they made music (and ideally snacked on the giant bowels of the sour dotted around). Mattel tells stories around Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine; the Lego Movie was actually pretty awesome. Shell, somewhat disturbingly, supposedly has $100m+ annual production fund which they operate through Darlow Smithson, normally keeping the 'documentaries' produced uncredited.

RedBull, of course, is the king of this space, making so much from documentaries and live-streams of their adrenaline sport universe they created a new production arm, Terra Mater, without the Red Bull logo or any connection with outdoor pursuits.

There's a good case study about how Factory Media conceived a six-part 30-minute TV show, The Indestructibles, raised £1m from Casio to produce it, built a big following on Facebook and YouTube, then gave it to the men's channel Dave for free. It met product placement rules, but effectively was a 30 minute advert. Appealingly though, the broadcaster didn't care that the agency weren't established TV producers, it was free programming.

Where does this leave us?

So these are our choices if you have an original, innovative idea for TV – be it drama, comedy or format:

  • Stay within trad-TV and make derivative programmes until you have sufficient reputation to try something new.
  • Find the money yourself to make original content on YouTube for a tiny advertising income, or for the slowly burgeoning and high-risk tVOD market.
  • Or make adverts pretending to be programmes for web and trad-TV.

I can't help but feel the disruption cycle isn't complete.


Filming hip hop on 9/11 – remembering 15 years on

I imagine everyone has their 'where were you on 9/11 story', like how my parents' generation had their 'what were you doing when JFK was shot?' story; two events in America notched in the calendars of our mind bigger than perhaps anything else.

I've never told my story of that day because it's always been mixed up with a sense of failure – and because there's 7 billion stories of that day, so why does mine matter? The only important stories were the people in that tragedy: the victims, the perpetrators, the causes, the response. Tales from bystanders seem almost indulgent. But then maybe its our way of explaining what #NeverForget means.

For it was already a strange day, unlike any other. It was the first day in my life I had a professional film crew by my side: a camera operator (son of my commissioning editor) and sound recordist, whose sister worked in finance in lower-Manhattan in New York. It was the only day I've had such a crew of paid people I didn't know, helping my shoot.

Natty - Defcon recordsWe'd climbed to the roof of our neighbouring office building in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell to film part of a documentary on UK hip hop. At this time, Netribution was just about staying afloat, producing a weekly magazine and making the occasional documentary for DKTV (Different Kind of TV) a new community channel that had started up on Telewest and Flextech. We'd set up the website to fund our films, but instead were making films to fund the website, that co-founder and editor Tom Fogg and I diligently created a new edition of each week.

A month or two before at a party at the Truman Brewery I'd been blown away by the freestyling of Natty, who could turn anything he was given or confronted with into a rhyme. He'd acapellad his track with another artist, Dwella, War – about the modern war industry. At the time I'd had an ongoing dispute with my girlfriend who considered rap to be all misogyny and violence, and here I discovered political, conscious lyrics. To any serious hip hop heads at 22 I must seem a bit late to learn this, still I was drawn to telling a story about non-commercial, politically and socially engaged hip hop. Another song, Industry Nerds, attacked the 'bling-fast cars-gold chains-sexy girls' nature of mainstream hip hop and Natty told me about the huge UK hip hop underground spanning grafiti, fashion, scratch-DJs, beat-box and b-boys.

We'd filmed Natty performing War in this abandoned building (right), my youthful cliché-instinct drawing me to a location as grimy as I could find, littered with dead pigeons and rubble. At one point during the recording we kicked in some of the roof above him to increase the sense of edgy underground. The reality is Natty and Dwella were from Tunbridge Wells, but I was more concerned with a evocative location than truth.

We'd recorded the song – which gives me shivers still, knowing what happened next – and were shooting some cutaways when Tom, also my collaborator on the documentary, burst out of the door to the roof with great urgency: "two planes have flown into the twin towers!". After getting him to repeat the story several times, we rushed downstairs to the small Netribution office where we had a small badly tuned TV and saw in horror how it was all true. 

He'd been sat working on that week's issue of Netribution, when his brother, one of the managers at the Ivy, had phoned him. "We've got the head of ITN and the head of [possibly Channel 4 News, I can't remember] having lunch here. Their pagers have gone crazy but they can't through to their office on the phone, what's going on?" Tom turned on his TV to watch the second plane hit and let them know.

We didn't have time to stop and watch the news as we had a full day of scheduled interviews. So we headed up towards the Highbury Estate to interview Taskforce: Farma G and Chester P. We were all, of course in a state of shock. The sound recordist most worried about her sister in New York (who was fine), while some of the other rappers were already discussing the event in context of a conspiracy theory.

Farma G and Chester P TaskforceWe arrived at Farma and Chester's flat (left), and as the TV news played, started to shoot cutaways of their room which we could intercut with the interview. In the rushes you can hear the news playing and then the towers collapse. We're all dumbfounded but somehow carry on. I interview them. I don't ask a single question about what's happening.

To this day I don't really know why I didn't. At the time, I'd my list of prepared questions, we had our schedule of interviews, but in truth I just wanted the day over as quickly as possible. I wanted to go home and curl up in bed with my girlfriend and watch the news.

I can't think about that day without cursing myself for not being able to adapt under the circumstances – Chester and Farma are two of the most interesting, intelligent, conscious rappers in the UK (their Butterfly Concerto unlike anything else in hip hop), and rather than hear their perspective on what was happening, I asked pretty generic questions.

We then headed to Dark and Cold Records in Soho for the final shoots of the day. Natty had done a great job of getting UK legends in presence: London Posse's Rodney P, DJ Daddy Skitz, Fallacy and more. I was new to UK Hip Hop and only understood later how important they all were. I remember Rodney being taken aback by my relentless questioning. There was a shirt with the twin towers on it in the shop, it was held up morbidly. The tensions was high, but everyone was more focussed on hip hop than the unfolding news. 

We finished and went to Mother Bar for a quick drink. In those days there was a huge mural of the Twin Towers on the wall. I headed home.

The next day Tom and I drove out to the country where Natty and Dwella were recording in a studio. We bought half a dozen newspapers and poured over them still-stunned in a coffee shop on the way. There felt a clear sense the world would never be the same. The photos of people falling, jumping in the guardianm like many are impossible to forget. 

I went home and in the coming months and years felt the experience had proven to me I wasn't a natural documentary maker – I was more concerned with following the pre-written questions than adapting to the circumstances. The eventual documentary covers the UK hip hop scene in some breadth on a micro near-no-budget, but other than one performance in Tunbridge Wells that mentions Bin Laden somewhat awkwardly, the wider context is never revealed. I later learnt that Vimeo's VIP of Distribution Peter Gerrard also was shooting a hip hop documentary in the US at that time, stranded mid-shoot as flights were cancelled. We should swap footage. But the day put me off making documentaries – I've made only one more since.

A couple of years later I made a short video remix, taking Ani DiFranco's 9/11-related song Self Evident, combining it with footage from Koyaanisqatsi and a protest march against George W Bush during his state visit to London amidst the Iraq War. I released it online under a pseudonym.

The final shot is of the cemetery right next to ground zero. I'd seen it while the towers were still there, I'd got to go up one the year before and remember how they shadowed this graveyard in darkness. Filming it during a New York trip in 2003 with Shooting People, I was struck by this gaping empty space, painfully sad and loud in its absence, but where the light could now come in. 



Perspectives from a microbusiness: why free movement is a deal breaker

Turbine Hall, Tate

I get it. The people have spoken (well, 37% of the electorate or ~26% of the UK). Brexit means Brexit (tho no-one knows quite what that is) and the decision is clear. There may be a multitude of reasons why people voted Brexit – to save money, to avoid EU regulations, to get more parliamentary sovereignty, to cut welfare for EU migrants, to send a message to Westminster, to send a message to Brussels, to get rid of non-whites, to get £350m a week for the NHS – but change is coming. What sort? Well, although had the EU offered David Cameron a better deal in February, we'd probably have voted to Remain, making it plausible the EU could offer us a better deal now, that doesn't appear to be happening. The British negotiating positions looks like either Single Market without free movement or if not given that, full Brexit, perhaps with a right-to-remain agreement for current residents in exchange for similar deal for Brits in the EU or a Canadian-style trade deal. In either scenario the system of democratic influence into the operation of the EU we currently have; the seat at the negotiating table for new deals, treaties and funding schemes – that has gone, as are the network of MEPs who exist to communicate local issues to the EU.

Removing free movement means that if I was going to open a big factory, if I couldn't employ enough cheap skilled workers to do that in the UK, I could just set up a factory in in Poland and do it there. Poland would get my PAYE, VAT and Corporation Tax and there would be no tariffs for me to sell my stock back into the UK. I'd employ fewer local businesses to support and build my factory. It's good for me, Big Business, but terrible for countries and communities. This is the thing about free movement that politicians seem to not bother explaining. Economically speaking, free movement is designed to protect local jobs and the local economy, it's a concession to social issues in an otherwise purely business deal.

Though for me, free movement means something different. It means the ability to not have to make the trade-off between being able to travel and being able to hold down a job or start a business. I can currently both work and run my business while travelling and living around the EU. I'd prefer if that was the world (and to be honest, provided I bring money with me, and keep moving, that's true). I appreciate many people in many jobs don't have this luxury, tho they doubtless earn more. Still, remote working, the gig economy and digital businesses are only growing, ten years from now my lifestyle of working for clients while starting ventures from any nice place I chose (with Wifi) could be the norm. What kind of lifestyle do people want their kids to have? My brother is just starting a top MA in Sweden – for free! Why prevent people from the freedom to bounce between Florence and Copenhagan, Paris and Krakow, Berlin and Madrid, building a network of peers, co-workers and friends? Why deny that luxury to British citizens?

If free movement goes, then I guess I would to, and move to a country that does offer it. Businesses and entrepreneurs will be the first to be offered plenty of EU27 incentives and residency by other states, something that's already begun with the Berlin billboard van. America wants to fast-track visas for entrepreneurs with startups. The public funding systems in some EU countries are brilliantly set up to support startups and small business (not to mention research, art, film, tv production, theatre, etc).

I can imagine some Brexiters would call those who Leave a traitor to their country – actually all of this is the reverse: it's because I want to stay in the UK and run my business from here that it matters so much to me that we get the best possible post-Brexit deal. I know I'm not alone.

Why the EU matters to a tiny business like Netribution

I've not done the sums but maybe up to a quarter of my business in recent years has come through the EU. Netribution is a tiny outfit that's chosen to stay really lean and small with the lowest possible overheads in order to maximise time to develop new ideas. Still, through this microbusiness, I've worked on Honeycomb, an EU Interreg project researching and building creative digital micro/SME business networks across Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England; and Interreg's Scandinavian World of Innovative Media, bridging Copenhagen and Malmö with some of the region's most creative digital people and microbusiness. You can download a copy of the research I did for Honeycomb here, and watch the slightly stumbly lecture on web film distribution I did for Swim here.

Eight years ago with Adam P Davies, Netribution launched our 490-page world Film Finance Handbook at Cannes. We sold copies in the local bookshop and the American Pavilion, and on upturned boxes in the street to passing multi-million dollar producers. We even thrust a copy into the hands of a then Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell – better access then we could have got in London. Best of all, we paid no tariffs and had to fill in no forms.


Why London's startup status should be safe (for now)

The uncertainty following the Brexit vote, has been met with talk of startup investment falling through, cancelled Horizon 2020 (the £88bn EU innovation and tech fund) bids, and a sinking Sterling, all lead to a sense that London could soon lose it's position as arguably Europe's startup capital. Loss of access to the single market, which will happen unless the UK government agrees to maintain free-movement, or the other 27 EU member states agree to create an exception on the EU's founding principle; London would be an unhelpful location for anyone selling or operating across the EU.

Many startups are considering their options, given how competitive and fast-moving the market is. However, London still has at least two advantages, and sounds like it is be about to get a third.

1. The city

"This is the most incredible place" an Italian told me on Friday night. The week before a Spanish neighbour explained "I am heartbroken because I thought this was the best place in the world, the most tolerant place in the world." Still, if London can keep sufficient autonomy from government, get further devloved powers, it's place as a leader in creativity, culture and rich multiculturalism should be safe. We have a Muslim mayor marching on Gay pride. All of this makes for an attractive (if expensive) place to work, and as a global tech startup HQ, there is, at least, minimal gun crime.

2. The language

While sites targeting particular countries and regions will use a local language, for apps and sites targeting Europe and the US, English is commonly the first language used, often multi-lingual versions don't come until later. With America set to overtake the economic power of EU-minus-UK, then this is unlikely to change soon. Britain will always have an advantage over other European cities beyond Ireland, for this reason. Not only is the country full of good (and often under-employed) writers, the creative sector as a whole has a disproportionate share of Oscars, Grammies and Emmies.

3. Commercial property costs could go down  40%

Wth most of the property investment funds ceasing trading to meet demand for withdrawals, some estate agents have forecast reductions of up to 40% in the cost of commercial space as they revise down expectations of demand. Indeed with the ability to easily rezone commercial properties for residential use, introduced by the Coalition to attempt to deal with housing shortages, we could see residential costs fall as well. Cost of living and office space are perhaps two of the strongest advantages other European startup capitals have.

But there are potential issues:

Impact on labour & talent

While it's true that the rise in racism and hate crimes could put off talented people from wanting to move to the UK to work, none of the Leave campaigners have ever suggested ending migration for skilled or needed workers; no-one has suggested the end to migration, just a different system of it. However, there will be less cheap labour around, which could have it's consequences with people moving their companies to where the cheap yet skilled labour is instead. 

Madrid, for instance, has huge numbers of unemployed digital people, would be in the EU, with a widely-spoken language and low cost of living. But this decision won't be made for two years or more, and relocation in the event of a bad post-Brexit settlement can still happen (as Lush are already doing).

We forget that free-movement was intended to protect native workers: would we rather a company set up in the UK that employed mostly migrant workers, but who spent most of their money here – and paid taxes here (£25bn over the last decade) – or that they set it up in Poland and we saw none of that money? I imagine that depends on where their taxes are spent - on stretched local services, or on central government management?

Science, tech & innovation funding

What seem immediately concerning is the collapse in H2020 bids - and the impact this will have on universities and micro/SMEs. Don't get me wrong, my limited experience suggests the fund is often abused and much needing reform, but it has provided key funding while successive governments have wavered in their support. British technical excellence and invention is something of national pride, and a key driver of the economy – and support for these areas need their income securing. The EU funded the huge new Graphene centre, for instance, and has backed countless startups, and the technology they use. Funding from the EU helped me undertake a number of business supporting projects including Honeycomb in Norther Ireland the Republic., and in Copenhagen and Sweden. If we lose our academics to countries in the EU which can still get this funding, we'll be feeling the effects for many decades. We would risk falling far behind the rest of the continent in the sorts of innovation that offer perhaps our best hope of recovering our economy and paying off the debt.

Political uncertainty

Contender to be the next PrimeMinster ('the Conservative's Corbyn' some call her as she sits towards the tea-party wing of the party), Andrea Leadsom has called for BBFC-style website verification where anything published online first would have to be approved by a regulator like the film censors to agree if it is legal and what age it was suited for. Given this would require Facebook and Twitter to be resubmitted several thousand times a second, the risk of such erratic legislation would give any web or digital startup concern.

Brand London

But, if London becomes seen as less a 'City of the World' – as it long has been – and more the 'Capital of Little England/Britain', then we're in trouble. It's an incredible place to visit, live and work, in spite of the costs – but we're next to a continent full of incredible cities, who can each claim, as EU members, to be more internationalist, more cooperative and less arrogant than the UK currently appears to the world. Farage's rant in the EU parliament may take a long time for the world to forget. So an urgent priority might be for the city - as with other pro-Remain cities and regions - to clearly and boldly declare to the world they are more committed to international solidarity and cooperation, and to rejecting all intolerance and hate crime, than ever. Leaders can acknowledge that much may change politically and in law, but that this idea, this thing we take so much pride in, isn't up for discussion.

I apologise for not talking about other regions and cities in the UK and their specific issues in writing this: especially after such a rejection of London-centric thinking in this referendum. However, it's where I live and work, it is battling with being 60% opposed to this Leave vote and it's the powerhouse of the country, contributing around a third of tax revenue from around 10% of the population.


Why I hope Idris Elba is the next Bond

With Daniel Craig reportedly turning down around $100m to continue his role for two films, and bookies apparently no longer taking bets on Tom Hiddlestone for the next Bond, the 'undemocratic primaries' for who shall next pick up a tux and treat women badly, has hit full fever pitch.

I was fascinated to read recently about my grandmother's sister-in-law Una Trueblood, who was Ian Flemming's secretary, typing up all his hand-penned Bond books. Adam Thorpe, who wrote the piece, had gotten to know Una through his wife, my aunt Jo, her god-daughter. Una confided that they 'weren't my sort of book', being a faithful church-goer, but typed them up nevertheless and in his inscription on Goldfinger to her Flemming wrote 'to Una, who wrote all the books'. In Dr No, she was made an MI5 secretary and quickly killed off, and some ask if she was his Miss Moneypenny muse. The passage about her namesake's death makes quite unpleasant reading:

"“Mary Trueblood opened her mouth to scream. The man smiled broadly. Slowly, lovingly, he lifted the gun and shot her three times in and around the left breast. The girl slumped sideways off her chair. The earphones slipped off her golden hair on to the floor”."

Anyway I drop what looks like a humblebrag in here because in reading Adam's account I learnt that Fleming would spend three months a year in Jamaica, where he wrote the books; indeed it was apparently because he read such a bad airport novel on the plane there one time that he decided to write his own - Casino Royale. So he wrote Bond in a mostly black country, doubtless getting far more black cultural influences than most British writers at that time. I've not read any of his books – I've not even read all of Adam Thorpe's! – indeed I struggle with many of the cultural aspects of Bond, tho dearly loved Roger Moore's Bond as a kid. But I can't help wonder how much the setting must have influenced the ambiance or essence of the writing, not least Bond himself. Which is why Idris Elba seems an interesting Bond (I was previously hoping for Adrian Lester, after Tom interviewed him here in 2000).

There are many reasons why a Bond decried by Judi Dench's M back in Goldeneye as a 'sexist misogynist dinosaur', and who's barely changed since, could benefit from trying on a different tux to the white, public-schoolboy background, which Daniel Craig began to an extent, having proven his brilliance as Geordie in Our Friends in the North. Not least as contemporary mainstream cinema struggles to catch-up with over century of under-representation in both gender and race. 007 remains the leading 'spy sex symbol' in the media's eyes, the archetype against which Arnie in True Lies  or countless spy spoofs are measured against. Yet, to date, Bond seems to have an unspoken 'white-only' entry requirement. It would be great to see Idris break that, not least because he's a brilliant actor, but also as he may reacquaint the universe with some of the roots that must have influenced the books' creation.

 Idris Elba at the MET ball, source GQ/Getty


Crowdfunding’s lack of sophistication around risk: is staged-finance the answer?

“Staged financing must become the film business’s immediate goal.”
– Ted Hope, Producer & Head of Production, Amazon Studios, September 2013

Crowdfunding’s lack of sophistication around risk

Much, if not most, of investment strategy is about dealing with risk. A backer of a project – be that an equity or debt investor who is hoping to see some kind of profit, or a crowdfunding supporter who wants to get their perks and see the finished film – has to predict risk. Normally, the closer a project goes from idea to release – from pitch to screen – the lower that risk gets; it's reducing all the time. To reflect this, in the majority of business investments, the first ‘angel' investors will normally put in the least and get the most equity, and as subsequent funding rounds continue, new investors put in greater amounts and get less relative share, but more value as the business is now worth more. As risk decreases, the cost of participation increases, just as there are far more ideas that get turned into scripts than scripts that get made into movies, or movies that get a theatrical release.

But crowdfunding, not technically an investment, is flat and treats all types of backer the same. At the start backers have to decide if a project looks viable and convincing, pay their money and hope for the best. It’s an investment of faith and confidence when 75% of all crowdfunded projects arrive late and a quarter over six months late (according to a July 2013 study). Some end up cancelled (examples here or here), which damages the whole space as they will doubtless put some people off backing a crowdfunding project again.

The problem is arguably even more of a challenge with flexible crowdfunding where projects can miss their target and end up raising far less than they need but still cash in. On Indiegogo, 80% of projects raise less than a quarter of their target, meaning often there isn't the money to deliver the project or to do it to the standard promised. This is a problem both for the creative, on whose shoulder the stress and reputation rests, and the backer, whose money is at stake. Meanwhile, the crowdfunding space depends on people having a good experience, backing a project and doing it again.

Yet the money is almost never all needed at the very start. For a lot of creative projects, some money is needed to pay some wages and overheads over the many months or years it will take on an ongoing basis – so it could trickle in. Indeed, the bigger costs might be towards the end during post-production or when 1,000 DVDs & DCPs are needed or the soundtrack has to be cleared. By that time the risk is considerably lower – if a book is ready to print or a film fit to screen, there's less risk about delivery, while it’s easier to assess the quality at that stage.

Rolling with it

Is there space for a rolling or staged crowdfunding that dripfeeds money into the project throughout its creation much as development, production, completion & marketing finance are already separated? It seems to resonate with how Ted Hope has been arguing the indie film world needs to adopt staged investor financing to get more people investing in film.

It would support the kind of structure where, say, of 1,000 scripts or ideas that got funding, 200 might be supported to to do pre-production & shoot a promo, 100 get shot, 50 get full post-production and packaging for delivery and 10 get extra marketing and distribution support. Investors at each stage would be taking a smaller risk and would be putting in larger sums of money – while the backer who’d taken a risk and made a good choice at the initial idea stage could stand to make a bigger share of any profits.


Film's monopoly problem

Not before time, the new year started with some promising news about selling films online. For the first time, the annual decline in DVD and Blu-ray sales in the US has been outstripped by the growth in digital sales, rentals and subscriptions. Home entertainment rose 0.7% in 2013 (PDF source). $6.5bn – over a third of total consumer spending – came from digital rental, retail and subscriptions, with download-to-own rising a hefty 48% on 2012. The figures don’t even include subscriptions bundled with other services (like a cable company’s deal with Netflix) or advertising-supported VOD like Hulu or YouTube.

Of course, a chunk of this growth has been for television and traditional film, and the biggest beneficiaries continue to be the studios and large rights owners. For independents – as Scott Harris detailed in his frank description of the struggles self-distributing Being Ginger – digital distribution is typically a lot of work for limited gains. Why is this?

Indeed, why – unlike many other industries online – does the small, agile film producer not have a bigger advantage online over the studio giants? If film behaved like publishing, software development or countless other industries, then being a small, low-overhead, low-budget independent outfit would offer a significant upside over being a major film studio. Standard network effects online have consistently empowered the garage-based agile and innovative players, who not only compete with, but out-sell ‘legacy’ businesses in their industry.