The global challenge

Feb 01 2011 11:26
Simon Dingle

LAST week I had the honour of appearing as a guest on This Week in Tech - a technology talk show exclusively broadcast over the internet and hosted by respected American technology journalist Leo Laporte.

With a rapidly expanding online media empire, Laporte represents the new wave of broadcasters providing quality free content online. I'd much rather watch his show than just about anything on offer via South African television - and with the way things are going, I see little reason even to have access to local television services.

Of course, one area where This Week in Tech can not compete with traditional television is in production budgets. Big television networks can afford to spend millions on episodes of their shows that the online-only guys have trouble competing with.

But the traditional television networks are increasingly moving online too, and making their shows available via services like Apple's iTunes, allowing viewers to get their TV shows that way.

This immediately makes the content international, even if the licensing of that content doesn't allow it. By lying and telling Apple you live in America, it becomes possible to pay for and download television shows, movies and other content anywhere in the world, circumventing the release schedules of the production houses and television networks still clinging to antiquated licensing and distribution models.

This is changing the game for local content creators and television networks because they are competing with global providers, whether legitimately or otherwise.

Even where consumers can't jig the system to pay for American content, they are being helped along by pirates who make the same content available quicker, for free and at a better quality and user experience than any local pay television provider can offer. Of course getting content that way is illegal, but that doesn't prevent literally millions of people from doing so.

But it isn't just broadcasters that are seeing their competitive environments go global at a rate of knots; retailers are too.

Take the Amazon Kindle as an example. Since launching the product in South Africa and other countries, Amazon now ships it globally and goes directly to market. I have ordered two already and they were delivered to me in Johannesburg within a week.

I blogged about my experiences with the product and have since heard from literally hundreds of other South Africans who have ordered the device.

Amazon is good at what it does. It can get a Kindle to you in South Africa in around three days. If your Kindle breaks, they'll send you a replacement before you even return the broken one. Find me a local retailer who can claim that level of service.

A friend of mine recently purchased a microphone on Amazon that arrived in South Africa within two weeks. He got it for less than I managed to buy it for at retail in the USA - yes, including shipping. The product isn't available via local distribution yet.

So whether your local business provides online content or physical products, the world is increasingly becoming a place in which it no longer only competes with other local businesses.

There are many products the Amazons of the world won't send to South Africa - but that is only because of licensing issues that prohibit distribution to certain territories. Anything they are allowed to send to South Africa, they will. Manufacturers are also increasingly rethinking their licensing and distribution models.

It's a sad fact that we readily celebrate mediocrity in South Africa. Like the Australians - an analogy I've stolen from Clem Sunter. South African consumers get ripped off and face bad service from countless local businesses.

But those organisations are increasingly going to come up against firms that focus on excellence and provide first world service quality. So what are the locals going to do about it?

 - Fin24




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