Supplying The Missing Ingredient In Evidence-Based Policymaking: Evidence
from the just-the-facts,-ma'am dept
It seems extraordinary that in the area of copyright it is only recently that people have started to consider the evidence before formulating policy. Even now, there is still resistance to this idea in some quarters. Elsewhere, though, there is a growing recognition that policy-makers must have access to the data they need when considering how to achieve given goals.
That's very much the impulse behind a new document entitled "Statistical, Ecosystems and Competitiveness Analysis of the Media and Content Industries". It has been prepared on behalf of the European Commission by the Joint Research Centre, which describes its role as follows:
to provide EU policies with independent, evidence-based scientific and technical support throughout the whole policy cycle.
The bulk of the report is filled with detailed tables of figures and charts attempting to show what's been happening over the last few years in the media industries. Here's a summary of what the Joint Research Centre hopes producing these will achieve:
This study aims first of all to gain a better understanding of the dynamics in the Media and Content Industries (MCI) and to produce an assessment of the current and future competitiveness of the European MCI sector. The study maps the economic value and growth potential of this sector, driven by increasing awareness of the economic value of the sector. The sector itself has grown considerably over the past decades, but it also contributes to the growth of the Information Society. It provides the content which, in digital form, requires high speed broadband networks and thus stimulates the roll-out of broadband networks. The MCI is also an important part of the creative industries, which stimulate a flourishing creative climate thereby attracting other highly skilled economic activities, leading to vibrant urban economies (Florida, 2002; UNCTAD, 2008; European Commission, 2010a).
Secondly, this study aims to gain insights into the fundamental changes in this sector, which have taken place over the past two decades as a result of the introduction of ICT in different parts of the production and distribution process. Some of these technological innovations were so fundamental that they caused changes in the production chain, in the roles and positions in the value chain, in business models and in market structures. In other words, they have led to a transformation of the whole ecosystem.
Significantly, much of the first half of the report is given over to exploring why it is so hard to draw up detailed figures on the media and content industries. Part of the problem is that such official statistics as are available -- and they are relatively limited -- follow older industry categories that don't really fit any more. Even relatively new ones are problematic:
The new OECD definition intends to give a better reflection of the current MCI sector structure. However, the underlying categorization of the Media and Content Industries can not account for one of the most apparent trends in the Media and Content Industries, i.e. its increasing interconnectedness and convergence with ICT (telecom, computer and software industries). Distribution is now separated from MCI and included in ICT category, but increasingly distribution companies are involved in acquisition of content and content rights, packaging and marketing of content, sometimes also adding added value by producing additional services (EPG, communication services etc.) The same is true for new entrants such as major ICT firms like Google, Apple, YouTube, which are also increasingly involved in not just dissemination of content but also in many content related activities.
It is this intermingling of media, content, computers and communications in the digital sphere that makes it so hard to establish what is really happening. For example, the decline bemoaned by many in the traditional copyright industries is in many ways simply a reflection of the fact that new forms of creation and distribution are starting to replace the established ones, but capturing that in official statistics is hard.
One way around that is to turn to other sources:
In order to complement the data from official statistics, the study includes 'unofficial' statistics on developments in MCI. With the help of this data, it provides insight into the transformations taking place in MCI that are not immediately apparent in the official statistics. The main topics for which statistical evidence has been collected are the transformations resulting from the impact of ICT, or more specifically the impact of the internet and digitalisation on the production and distribution of media and content. This concerns especially the shift from offline (physical) to online digital distribution of content, and the impact of piracy, P2P networks and user-generated content in particular sub-sectors.
However, in this context the report makes an important point:
From investigating data found by screening major sources from industry associations, consultancies and research institutes specialised in media and content industries, an important conclusion is that it is impossible to directly compare or complement official statistics with unofficial statistics
One source of unofficial statistics is, of course, industry bodies. The report quotes some of their figures in a discussion of piracy:
The industry regards piracy as a serious threat for their business. Table 22 shows estimates by the film industry in 2005 for the losses incurred due to piracy. For the music industry, IFPI (2010) states that the music industry experienced a decline in sales of 30% from 2004 to 2009, which it mainly attributes to file sharing.
It's good to see that those figures aren't accepted uncritically, simply reported. Even more importantly, rather than accept the naïve view that unauthorized file sharing is necessarily harmful to the copyright industries, the report quotes one of the few studies available that looks at what the evidence says:
Although it is difficult to understand the true impact of illegal file sharing on the industry, it is clear that every file downloaded does not result automatically in one less CD or DVD sold. TNO conducted a statistical analysis and calculated the effect of illegal file sharing on the music industry for the Dutch market through a welfare-theoretical approach. They calculated the substitution ratio for the Dutch music industry, and estimated a substitution ratio of at most 5-7%. In other words: for every 15-20 downloads one track less is sold. However, the economic implications of file sharing for the level of welfare in the Netherlands were found to be strongly positive in the short and long terms, because downloaders buy the same amount of music as non-downloaders, and more games and DVDs than non-downloaders. Moreover, downloaders go to more concerts and buy more merchandise (TNO, 2009). It should however be noted that because of the fact that this study is focused on a single country, its conclusions can not be generalized to the EU as a whole without further investigation.
This is just one study, albeit a suggestive one, of what is happening in one country. Clearly many more are needing in order to establish the real impact of unauthorized sharing on the traditional copyright industries. Let's hope the Joint Research Centre can build on its current report and contribute to the gathering of more complete evidence on this crucial topic.