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Hancock hypes QuickTime

Ellen Hancock tells broadcasters that Apple's QuickTime multimedia software is the "media meeting place" in the age of digital convergence.

LAS VEGAS--Calling QuickTime the "media meeting place" in the age of digital convergence, Apple Computer (AAPL) executive vice president Ellen Hancock extolled the virtues of her company's popular multimedia software in today's keynote speech at the National Association of Broadcasters Multimedia World conference.

Like most keynotes these days, Hancock's speech was basically a commercial for her company's products, replete with lengthy demos and guest appearances from friendly third parties.

In step with this year's convention--where the computer, consumer electronic, and broadcast industries are maneuvering in anticipation of their much-hyped convergence--Hancock positioned QuickTime as a necessary tool for content creators who need to publish, push, and broadcast their material across several media with a consistent look and feel.

Hancock also cited the importance of digital TV, which broadcasters will start producing by the end of 1998.

"New media gives broadcasters and advertisers a way to deepen their relationship with viewers," Hancock said. "With digital TV, broadcasters can provide their own new media content [along with traditional programming]."

One observer saw the allure of QuickTime in a larger context.

"This raises much bigger issues than just this particular software," said Mark Schneider of Vancouver, Canada-based CTV Television Network. "There's tremendous defensiveness about new media among traditional broadcasters. This has the potential of making the chasm between PCs and TVs disappear."

QuickTime 3.0 will ship within 90 days on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms with the same feature sets. Giving Windows users full access to QuickTime authoring capabilities for the first time is a boon to software developers. It's also a risky move that could jeopardize sales of Mac hardware, Hancock acknowledged. To minimize that risk, the company is heavily touting the superiority of its latest Power Mac machines.

At least one audience member was enthused about QuickTime's migration to Windows.

"We'll be looking to do more online demos and training for our products," said James Lloyd, electronic media manager for biotech company Promega. "The cross-platform ability is a big issue for us."

Hancock reiterated Apple's commitment to bringing the entire QuickTime media layer--including APIs for QuickDraw 3D, QuickTime VR, and QuickTime conferencing--to the upcoming Rhapsody operating system.

Apple is also looking for ways to gain revenue from QuickTime, arguably the most popular and high-profile part of its system software.

"As of now we have no charter to make money," said QuickTime architect Peter Hoddie, but the company is exploring different possibilities, including licensing fees or end-user sales.

"One possibility is the Internet model, where you give away the core technology then sell extensions," said Hoddie. One such extension allows QuickTime users to read and edit OMF files from high-end Avid video workstations and cameras. Hoddie would not comment on specific plans or pricing schemes.

No matter how much it might need the revenue, the company should tread lightly where QuickTime is concerned, according to one Apple observer.

"QuickTime is perhaps the No. 1 thing they can't afford to fumble," said Stephan Somogyi, principal of San Francisco-based consultancy Gyroscope. "If developers have to fork over licensing fees for shipping it with their products, that might not be a good idea. It would depend on the pricing and how the ordinary mortal user would pay for it."

QuickTime also faces competition on the Windows side from DirectX, Microsoft's own set of low-level gaming APIs that Redmond is upgrading for broader multimedia use and eventual inclusion in Memphis, next year's successor to Windows 95.