Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is a contributor to TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

Throughout high school and college, I took a heavy dose of political science and history classes. As a result, those teachers and professors stressed the importance of investigating primary source documents and analyzing them on their own merits versus secondary sources (like textbooks, for instance), even though we were all issued textbooks, essays by subject matter experts, and a range of other interpretations. Eventually as college ended, the courses focused more on the primary source and our own interpretation of it.

Fast forward to today. At least in the world of startup technology news, which moves too fast to be captured by textbooks or print-versions of magazines, primary sources remain important, but social sources – at least for me – trump all. Of course, in early-stage, private companies, obtaining primary sources is difficult. In my world of tech news, like many, Twitter is my main source of information and how I surf the web. Specifically on Twitter, however, I do not follow any “news sources” directly. There is too much information out there. As a result, I try to follow people who’ve I’ve grown to trust who read and share articles or random blog posts.

In order for me to read something, I need a social signal to trigger and capture my attention. “Who” shares it with me matters. The “source” matters still, just not as much. And, in some cases, the source online can be propped up by a brand and hold power in its distribution. Real estate to create content online is infinite. There is no barrier to entry to create information, to build an audience, to generate page views, and to peg those against ads. Therefore, at least in my small world of online tech news, social sources reign supreme.

I’m guessing many of you reading this may feel the same way. The social signal from following a friend or trusted industry source motivates me to gain interest in a link, to read the story, or save for later. The most critical piece of information in that decision is not where the link originates from and resides, but rather who has shared this link. In a way, the tweet itself, as a unit of social currency, is more important than the source itself. One product which demonstrates the pervasiveness of this Flipboard. Yes, Flipboard has dedicated media channels for sources, but on their social feeds, the author of a piece of content is nearly greyed out so that the reader can focus on “who” shared the content with them over “who” created it.

The point of view I’m sharing obviously isn’t new or earth-shattering. The idea of “social news” has even collected dust. We all know it to be true. However, I believe this has big, long-term implications for online media brands. In my college history experience, book publishers spent time aligning with universities, professors, and other beacons in that world in order to make sure their materials were picked as sources. Fast-forward to today, those kind of tactics may not be as effective. Instead, media brands are forced to think critically about the quality of their loyal, core audience, because it is those individuals who will, as social sources, share and discuss the content, information, facts and myths with their own friends and audiences. This is where real, sustainable distribution lies. For media companies online, the social source trumps the primary source – it is the realization that who shares information online is oftentimes more important than what that information is. And for many media brands, that is a fundamentally – and at times scary – new reality.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Montes / Flickr Creative Commons

 Sky inks deal with Sony Pictures to boost its exclusive movie content on Sky Movies and Now TV

Tightening its vice-like grip on movie content in the UK, Sky has announced a new deal with Sony Pictures Television that will allow its Sky Movies and Now TV customers to enjoy exclusive access to the studio’s blockbuster movies six months after they hit theaters, offering films like Django Unchained, This is the End and After Earth for at least a year before its UK rivals.

The partnership will see Sky Movies customers gain access to Sony Pictures’ back catalog of hit movies — which includes the Spiderman Trilogy — also becoming available on its Internet-TV service Now TV, if they subscribe to a Sky Movies monthly pass.

It’s a blow for Netflix and Amazon’s LoveFilm, which are rapidly expanding their own catalogs (Netflix is also investing in original content), but find themselves unable to match the buying power of its BSkyB-owned rival.

In September 2012, Sky signed a similar movie deal with Warner Bros., adding films like Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and The Dark Knight Rises to its catalog. It later added all eight of the Harry Potter films, just in time for the Christmas holidays.

Earlier today, we reported that Sky would add Premiership football and other major sporting events to its Now TV service for a flat rate of 9.99 a day. While expensive, the addition of one-off fees for sporting events could see Sky push revenues higher, as sports fans connect to the service on their smartphone, tablet and PC to watch their favorite teams and sports stars while they are on the move.

Sky says all movies will be available on demand, via its Sky Go service, in both HD and 3D (if supported), while Sky Go users can download content to their smartphone, tablet or computer for an extra 5 per month. Those that subscribe to Virgin Media, UPC and TalkTalk are also able to enjoy the new movies via a dedicated Sky Movies subscription.

Image Credit: ilfattoquotidiano/Flickr

pirate flag 520x245 Researchers find Megaupload shutdown hurt box office revenues, despite gains for blockbusters

We’ve heard this one before, over and over again: pirates are the biggest spenders. It therefore shouldn’t surprise too many people to learn that shutting down Megaupload earlier this year had a negative effect on box office revenues.

The latest finding comes from a paper titled “Piracy and Movie Revenues: Evidence from Megaupload” (via TorrentFreak) from last month, conducted by from Munich School of Management (LMU) and the Copenhagen Business School (CBS). Here’s the abstract:

In this paper we make use of a quasi-experiment in the market for illegal downloading to study movie box office revenues. Exogenous variation comes from the unexpected shutdown of the popular file hosting platform on January 19, 2012. The estimation strategy is based on a quasi difference-in-differences approach. We compare box office revenues before and after the shutdown to a matched control group of movies unaffected by the shutdown.

The study analyzed weekly data from 1,344 movies in 49 countries over a five-year period. Here’s the crux of the results: “In all specifications we find that the shutdown had a negative, yet in some cases insignificant effect on box office revenues.” Not all movies were negatively affected: “For blockbusters (shown on more than 500 screens) the sign is positive (and significant, depending on the specification).”

The researchers try to explain how big blockbusters gained but overall revenues dropped:

Our counterintuitive finding may suggest support for the theoretical perspective of (social) network effects where file-sharing acts as a mechanism to spread information about a good from consumers with zero or low willingness to pay to users with high willingness to pay. The information-spreading effect of illegal downloads seems to be especially important for movies with smaller audiences. ‘Traditional’ theories that predict substitution may be more applicable to blockbusters

Unsurprisingly, the dip in revenues was most visible for average size and smaller films, as people are most likely to see big blockbusters with their friends regardless of what happens on the Internet. Those flicks are less likely to require word-of-mouth promotion by people who used Megaupload to share movies.

Of course this is just one paper, and I’m sure more studies will be done that will dive deeper into the data. By then though, Megaupload’s successor, Mega, will have launched.

See also – Kim Dotcom: New Megaupload will launch January 20 2013, the anniversary of the police raid and With Kim Dotcom’s plans scuppered, soon-to-relaunch Mega goes online at

Image credit: RAWKU5