Subsidising Legality

Over GPRS, I can play decent quality streaming audio on my iPAQ over bluetooth via my phone. For the past few months I’ve had free access to a GPRS network, which means I can indulge such conceits without bankrupting myself in the process. As things stand in the UK, GPRS is ridiculously expensive. If I had to pay for the benefits I get from it, I doubt I’d bother.

But it leads me to thinking:

The weightless web [peer-to-peer meets hosted services] is content-based, not location-based: assuming that increasingly we will access content as a service rather than as a locally-cached copy [streaming mp3 vs iPod], and assuming that wireless network providers will continue to charge by-the-byte for the foreseeable future, there’s a new opportunity for content owners to push fee-based media services. Given that the weightless web is about content, rather than the location of a particular instance of that content, they can incentivise by subsidising the bandwidth costs for the replay of an instance of their DRM-protected media rather than of bootlegged copies. Market forces do the rest. So far, the motivation for owning both media and channel seems about internal efficiencies in getting content in front of the audience: anyone thinking about actually subsidising consumers, per media file, based on where they’re getting their content?

Of course, this assumes that network access is still charged per byte. Adhoc peering, via 802.11 mesh, or any other ‘free’ architecture, removes the financial leverage. But as long as the majority of punters are buying mobile phones, it’s a possibility…