First of all, I'd like to thank the Ubuntu design team for kindly opening this
discussion to the community, and to thank everyone who has participated. Lots
of fantastic ideas and lovely mockups!
I think the timing for Ubuntu making a move into TVs couldn't be better. There
is a big shift underway in video production and distribution, and I'd argue that
once it plays out, we'll see a drastically altered entertainment industry in
which artists and their fans are in control... as they should be.
And I think Ubuntu should be at the center of this, should make its mark as the
platform that liberated artists. To come clean, I'm not unbiased in this as I'm
with Novacut and Ubuntu is deeply strategic to us. Ubuntu making a bold move
here will no doubt aid Novacut's commercial success.
But this market shift is going to happen with or without Novacut, with or
without Ubuntu. Someone will fill in the missing software and platform pieces,
someone will step up to be a true champion for artists. And my feeling is, it
should be us.
So I'm going to zoom out from the technical details, and instead talk about
markets and about people... human beings, you might say :P
Storytellers are Powerful
Think about this statement:
Southpark is more influential than the Pope
Regardless how you feel about Southpark or the Pope, I bet that statement seems
true to most. And that says something pretty profound about how big a part
entertainment plays in our lives.
Storytelling is powerful, and all that power comes from the only essential
ingredient... the artists who through enormous effort (and usually great
sacrifice) craft the stories that enrich our lives.
Yet because of (historic) technical details, the ability to control the conduit
between artists and their fans made for very powerful gatekeepers, and
depressingly powerless artists.
But the instant artists can enjoy a better living (aka make more money) by
routing around the gatekeepers rather than going through them, artists will have
all the power.
To be clear, this is *already* happening for some artists. A great example
recently in the news is the wildly successful direct-to-fan experiment that
Louis CK undertook:
And some industry veterans are choosing to route around the gatekeepers even
when it means that for now they make far less money... because at least they
have the creative freedom they never got at their day job.
Point is, we don't have to convince artists this is a good idea. We just have
to convince ourselves that it's worth putting in the work to deliver the missing
The Platform that Serves Artists Best
When artists have all the power, the platforms will be fundamentally powerless.
Which is not to say there isn't a business opportunity here and a true need for
But the only way one platform will enjoy a larger marketshare than another is by
being more fanatical in caring for artists. And this is going to be a fiercely
competitive space because in this brave new world, artists are *never* going to
give up ownership, artists will always distribute through multiple venues at
So consider this: if two platforms are both at the limit in terms of how well
they can take care of artists on the distribution side, how could you one-up
the other platform? Well, you could help artists on the production side, help
more artists make it to market in the first place. You could build artists
superior creative software that saves them time and helps lower costs. And of
course, you'd give artists this software for free (or else let a competitor beat
you to it).
Understandably, Novacut has perhaps seemed a bit unfocused when we talk about
the editor, the player/venue, and this strange "Dmedia" thing that connects the
two. But we're playing for the end-game described above, and although what
we're attempting is difficult, we have just enough pieces to be in a strong
position when the dust settles.
A Challenge for Ubuntu
I'm speechless with excitement about Ubuntu TV:
But looking at that great video, I wonder, why should artists be excited about
Ubuntu TV? Is Ubuntu TV going to make their lives better, or is it going to be
the status quo with a better user experience?
To live up to its name, I think Ubuntu needs to be the platform that liberates
artists. I know the name "Ubuntu" wasn't chosen lightly.
I think there are two issues:
1) Ubuntu needs to make a public commitment to artists... and I mean just in
words, a social contract. Because of FCPX, there is a lot of bad blood between
Apple and many artists right now. Many of these artists are restless, looking
for a new home, and goodwill can be built simply by warmly welcoming artists to
Ubuntu, assuring them that Ubuntu wont blindside artists as Apple has.
2) Canonical needs to be *very* careful about making deals with the status quo
content owners. As far as I know, Canonical doesn't have much in the way of
deep connections with big content yet... and I think this is one of Canonical's
greatest strengths. This allows Canonical to move quickly and aggressively
toward where the market is going.
I'm not suggesting Canonical make some exclusive deal with Novacut... we embrace
competition, and we specifically don't want to be the only direct-to-fan
offering on Ubuntu. But I want to be able to count on Ubuntu as the platform
that puts artists first. Too many deals with the Devil, and artists will start
to question this commitment. And the wrong sort of deals will limit Canonical's
ability to maneuverer on behalf of artists.
I'm also not suggesting Canonical do this as a matter of charity. I think this
is absolutely the best way for Canonical to make money with Ubuntu TV. Ubuntu
is perfectly positioned to lead in the new world: it has a platform that
stretches from content-creation (Ubuntu desktop) to content-consumption (Ubuntu
TV, tablet, and phone); Ubuntu has a friendly community full of wonderful
people; and Ubuntu has a brand "cool" that, unlike Apple, isn't just skin deep.
The Ubuntu story truly resonates with artists... I know this first hand because
I spend so much time talking to current Apple/FCP users.
Google TV is no doubt Ubuntu TV's strongest competitor, and Google is responding
to this market shift:
Where Google's move is weak, I think, is YouTube's legacy of cats in birthday
hats, and that it seems like too much of an afterthought.
No offense, but I have a hard time imagining Canonical can beat Google when it
comes to securing content deals with the status quo. But Canonical *can* beat
Google when it comes to this disruptive market shift. Canonical can win here by
being bolder and more focused.
Ubuntu should be the platform that puts artists first, and deals with big
content should be the afterthought.
PS: If Android is any indication, Google TV will probably be cheaper than free,
and Canonical needs an answer to this. I've privately and publicly stated that
Novacut wants to do revenue sharing with both Canonical and hardware
manufactures. And I bet Novacut can entice more to follow our lead.