Media’s Believe-It-or-Not Future

(Originally published in ClickZ, October 2004) by Eric Picard

TV and radio serve up content in a linear broadcast format. It’s dished out in time slices according to schedules that make sense to broadcasters and the marketers who buy their ad space.

The change coming to media is so radical, many colleagues I speak with within the industry would rather not engage in the discussion at all: All media are going digital. Media will be nonlinear in the next few decades. Look at what’s happening with DVRs (define), such as TiVo. The latest estimates are that DVRs will control 80 percent of the market within five years, as cable and satellite companies begin distributing them. All a DVR does is strip linear content out of a broadcast and make it nonlinear. Why continue viewing linear broadcasts when you can simply download content as you want it?

Giving consumers control is a key driver in new technology adoption. DVRs are popular (and will be adopted) because they offer consumers much more control of their television viewing experience. Consumers can time-shift TV to watch a show when it’s convenient for them. They can skip ads just as they do in magazines, stopping to watch only those that interest them.

Look what Maven is up to with branded broadband video, if you don’t believe me. Pretty cool stuff. It’s on the cutting edge of this new market, and watching the beginnings of revolutions is always good.

Radio is where “delinearization” will happen next. Satellite radio providers XM and SIRIUS are making decent headway into changing traditional radio. Yet their model is more of the same, with an emphasis on “more.” Yes, more choice and better (wider) selections of various genres. But it’s still linear.

Those of us who’ve used Web-based radio solutions know the writing’s on the wall for current models. (I’m listening to Real’s Rhapsody service on a nearly-free trial as I write, and I’ve kicked the others’ tires as well.) Once you can queue up your own selection of music and listen to it all day long, there’s no reason to buy an album. New developments such as iPodder from former MTV VJ and Think New Ideas cofounder Adam Curry let consumers dive into the blogosphere and download music playlists directly to an iPod or other digital music devices.

Microsoft’s recent release of local radio that mimics major markets’ radio playlists is an astute move on its part, and only a tiny piece of its overall plans for the media’s future. Redmond is stretching toward the future in ways that remind me of the shifts it took after Bill Gate’s all-night Web surfing sessions drove it toward incorporating the Web into the OS.

The Windows Mobile site gives a bit of a view into where it sees things heading: Windows MediaPlayer 10 MobileWindows XP Media Center, and the new Portable Media Center interact seamlessly, allowing the consumer to manipulate digital content in unprecedented ways.

Sure, today these solutions are aimed at technology hogs like me. But Microsoft’s media device strategy is broad, well-planned, and in early execution phase. The revolution is hardly over yet. What happens when wireless blankets the world?

Wireless will change media once Wi-Fi (define) coverage is as large as cellular network coverage.WiMAX is the first step in this direction. Intel can’t talk enough about it.

WiMAX is essentially wide-area broadband Wi-Fi. Intel’s plans include building wireless into cheap-enough chips on such a scale that almost everything will connect wirelessly to the Internet in a few years.

What happens when radio and TV signals are sent via wireless IP instead of the current analog and digital broadcast signals? Once that happens, control over how, when, and where media are used and consumed falls squarely into the hands of — the consumer.

I rest my case.


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