Radio Transmission

I did the second of what I hope will be a regular spot on the radio last night, talking technology on a local BBC station. We covered a few different topics including WiFi, MP3 players, and Satellite Navigation. Preparing for the show got me thinking about how close we already are to the connected-home I talked about in December, where all forms of entertainment are available somewhere on the WAN.

Take Telewest’s Teleport service for example, something I looked in to for my sister this morning. It gives you access to a massive library of films and TV on demand. Sky BT, Channel 4 and others are all launching, or have already launched, their own Video on Demand packages.

Doing some research for a client this morning reminded me just how reliant on the web we already are for written materials. Despite having access to a library of magazines, my first port of call to find some recent news stories was Google.

Given the dominance of downloads in the music market now, it seems the delivery infrastructure for all of our media moving online is already in place. Videos, written media and music are all readily available. The technology and the services are almost there, but two things are holding us back: devices and DRM.

I’ve yet to see Apple’s iTV demonstrated but I have little doubt the interface will be pretty slick. Yet it still relies on a PC or Mac to get the content in the first place: the interface isn’t quite good enough for you to browse the enormity of iTunes from 10ft away.

The problem with iTunes of course, is that whatever you download will be wrapped in a fairly restrictive DRM layer. Want to shunt that movie on to your Archos Jukebox, or over to your Netgear EVA in a different room? Sorry! No can do.

I don’t have a problem with DRM in principle: people want to get paid for their services/products, and there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there. Not so much people who want things for free, but people who want to make money out of other people’s property. So why not apply some control over how your products/services are used.

The issue comes in the implementation: almost all forms of DRM are proprietary and the ability to licence them is either unavailable or unpleasantly expensive. In an industry with tight margins, a few pence per unit can make all the difference.

Given that I can’t see Apple and Microsoft coming to an arrangement on a shared DRM infrastructure that will be freely licenced to other manufacturers, the only real answer in the short term is to give up on DRM. As long as the purchase of media is made fairly friction-free, the vast majority of people would choose to buy rather than steal.

Part of making the purchase friction free is sorting out the devices: access to very high bandwidth is coming to both devices in the home and on the road. Now the manufacturers just need to get the interfaces sorted so that anyone can find, choose and access their media — whatever device and service they might buy it through, and wherever they might choose to access it.

This post forms part of my Future of Technology series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Technology page.

Tom Cheesewright

Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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Tom Cheesewright