Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Biofuel Mess

Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, have been a hot topic recently in political circles as a tool for combating climate change. They could create tons of agricultural/processing jobs while also doing a good thing for the environment...what's wrong with that?

Well, lots. First comes this article here, from the Financial Times, showing the ridiculous subsidies for biofuel production. Including as much as $1/litre in Europe for ethanol. The most fascinating chart, however, shows how much subsidized biofuel production has pushed the growth of corn consumption:

Theoretically, this focus on biofuel production has other effects, distorting food markets and driving up prices. Well...that world is a reality now. To the point that the UN independent food rights expert called for a 5-year freeze on biofuel production.
“It is a crime against humanity to convert agricultural productive soil into soil which produces food stuff that will be burned into biofuel.”

Even The Economist has weighed in, with an article on higher food prices. They too note the effect of biofuels, but also note the contribution of continued market liberalization, combined with an inordinate number of floods and droughts. It remains to be seen what will happen next, but reducing the distorting effect of biofuel subsidies would go a long way to helping everyone.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More on TV and the internet

Since my last post on this, much more has come to pass.

NBC and FOX launched their own video streaming site called Hulu, which is still in beta.
And in general the issue of TV and the internet has been much talked about. Well, as always, The Economist does the best wrap-up and summary of the complex issue here.
The penny has finally dropped. Broadcasters have realised they can earn more
from selling advertising slots in shows given away on the internet, than they
can from selling episodes for downloading online.
Better still, rather than
erode their viewing figures still further, letting people watch episodes of
popular TV shows on laptops or other devices seems to increase audiences for the
broadcasters’ conventional programming. Offering free access apparently
reinforces the broadcaster’s brand and boosts viewer loyalty—one of the first
pieces of good news the networks have had in ages.

Well, duh! Meanwhile The Economist also needled the wireless companies for their inane 20th-Century style monopolistic utility model.
But what about watching TV on a mobile phone? The phone companies would prefer
you didn’t know about free internet television. They want to make you pay a
hefty sum for receiving television shows on your phone via their proprietary
cellular networks, rather than from the internet for free.

Oh how wonderful they are! Google and Yahoo don't think like that! Nintendo doesnt think like that! This is old-style AT&T 'damn the consumers...full-speed ahead!'.
All it takes is one competitor...please let it be google. The wireless industry is due for a massive upheaval, and complete retooling of the standards of competition. Everyone hates their wireless company....but it doesnt have to be that way! Anyway, maybe people will vote with their feet (as they have with iPhones, supposedly 250K have been unlocked, and last week Apple limited iphone purchases to 2 per person, and only with a credit card).
Will subscribers tune in? That all depends on what price the wireless
carriers charge, and how much control the television networks are prepared to
surrender. The way both parties have been behaving of late does not bode
With Apple having upped the ante by including a WiFi connection in its
iPhone, sooner or later all mobile phones will have to do the same. That will
allow users to connect direct to the free and open internet as well as to their
carrier’s pricey and closed proprietary network. That means free phone calls
from the likes of Skype whenever the phone is used in WiFi hotspot. It also
means free access to internet TV.
The betting is that mobile viewers won’t
limit their video fare to just “walled gardens” like Hulu that broadcasters are
erecting. By insisting on controlling the content, how long it is made available
and what users can add to it, Hulu and its ilk will almost certainly drive
potential viewers to the open country of YouTube and MySpace, or even to the
bootleg haven of BitTorrent.
What the mobile generation of 18 to 34 year-olds
finds so attractive about social networks like YouTube and MySpace is that it is
they, the users, who are in charge. They not only assemble the content, but they
also curate it. And in so doing, they create a seductive sense of community.
That’s what makes such sites so successful.