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Culture

This time, the revolution will be televised

Private-equity investor Neil Sequeira says we're fast approaching a time when "on demand" content will really be demanded.

    Innovation in new media is happening at a pace that makes the head spin. But which technologies will wind up winners, and which will fall by the wayside?

    When talking about new media, it pays to be specific. The phrase is a catchall term for various forms of electronic communication that have appeared since the advent of the mainly text-and-static picture forms that define online communication.

    A big part of tomorrow's new media will be powered by Internet Protocol-based video-on-demand technologies. These will offer increased choice to consumers and give niche audiences access to their favorite programs. And it will resonate with consumers who have been stuck for decades with the homogenous, mainstream programming offered by the big television and cable networks.

    The revolution is beginning to happen, and it will be televised or delivered onto desktops or laptops--where consumers want to see it.

    Television has slowly made the move toward on-demand technology. Earlier this fall, CBS announced plans to put additional content on the Web to compete with 24-hour news channels. Starz has rolled-out an online movie download service, while to give consumers content they want and when they want it.

    In online music sales, consumers are likely buying singles rather than allowing themselves to get trapped into purchasing entire CDs. This element of choice is at the heart of the impending content revolution. For television, the dream is to make schedules irrelevant.

    But time-shifted delivery via set-top TiVo and other digital video recorders, or DVRs, is just the beginning. The revolution is beginning to happen, and it will be televised or delivered onto desktops or laptops--where consumers want to see it. As throughput increases, the new generation of IP-based systems will scale beyond any existing systems, including terrestrial, satellite and hybrid fiber coaxial (which can also transmit IP) to offer broad distribution of even broader content.

    In fact, the bulk of innovation in the IP space will come from open source. Advances in that burgeoning market will be propelled by the work of many developers willing to contribute to finding a wider solution.

    IP is itself an open infrastructure. As such, it can provide access to any content provider via the Web or any new Web-based content schemes that are forthcoming. Open source will not be limited to small communities of rebel programmers. Rather, major corporations are embracing the services aspects of open source and taking advantage of the communities that develop these applications.

    Numerous media distribution applications, including tools, payment processing, user interfaces and community platforms, will be created by open-source communities, supported by the "smart" technology and media companies, and enjoyed by consumers.

    A few trends will play an important role in giving content consumers what they want, :

    Unlike traditional HFC or satellite systems, IP-based systems can scale to almost limitless size. Such scale is necessary because certain consumers will want access to very niche content. Given the vast amount of content that exists in one form or another, the shift necessarily will be to an IP environment. You're going to need nearly boundless capabilities to match content of admittedly limited interest to some consumers. The only other alternative would be to use a dedicated pipe or channel to deliver something that few people will watch--and that doesn't make any sense.

    Investors are preparing for an onslaught of demand from hungry consumers who are tired of waiting for content to be pushed to them by programmers and media executives. Even so, 80 percent of the high-quality content that most consumers want to watch will still be produced by the traditional media companies. Beyond sheer choice of content, individuals want to choose when to consume their content, and how they view or listen to it. Media companies will need to change and accept that users will need to be in control, or they will risk losing their customers.

    Televisions now come with more inputs than ever, for a broader range of digital and analog devices to plug into the "home entertainment hub," which is being standardized through efforts like the Multimedia over Coax Alliance. aims to help bring products to market more quickly. New technologies that enable consumers to take this content and watch it on closed portable devices, handhelds, mobile phones, laptops, computers, and the next generation of home and personal electronics will continue to emerge with a veritable smorgasbord to look for this holiday season.

    Creative-content producers want their movies presented in a certain way; HBO and the WB require their programming to be of a certain quality. As content providers transform from a closed environment to one that is more open and IP-based, they will need to partner with new technology providers to ensure that consumers receive high-quality programming. Companies that focus on providing high-definition, or HD, content to PCs must ensure that the content, regardless of device, is presented in a way that is consistent with the artistic vision.

    There's still a lot of ground to cover. But if the industry does it right, consumers and content providers will consume media in exciting and radically new ways.