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Jobs sees dark chapter

Steve Jobs is worried that content providers won't be able to keep up with ever-evolving technology, resulting in a pretty boring online world.

SAN FRANCISCO--Steve Jobs is worried that content providers won't be able to keep up with ever-evolving technology, resulting in a technically dazzling but basically pretty boring online world if Hollywood and Silicon Valley don't learn to work together.

"We are headed for a train wreck," said Jobs in a speech today at the 1996 Business Week Technology Futures Conference here, referring to the lack of good content to make online technology compelling.

Jobs said the lack of focus on the creative aspects of content creation will be a potentially serious hurdle in the years to come if the industry fails to follow the example of his company, Pixar Animation Studios.

Jobs, Pixar's chairman and CEO, pointed to the company's involvement with the blockbuster Toy Story as an example of technosavvy being happily wedded with artistic creativity. He also lauded the results of this synergy, saying, "Toy Story will generate more than $1 billion in revenue; The Lion King, over $2 billion."

The problem is not that technology can't keep up with the content, he elaborated, but vice versa. While users and industry leaders moan that network congestion prevents most users from enjoying the more spectacular online applications, Jobs thinks the bandwidth bottleneck is actually much less of a problem than the telephone companies and Internet service providers would have you believe.

He predicted that there would be cheap gigabyte/second Ethernet connections on the average desktop within 12 to 18 months. He added that the work of companies such as Intel boded well for the future of cheap ubiquitous bandwidth.

Jobs said Toy Story--the world's first totally digital film made in collaboration with Disney--was successful primarily because of engaging characters and interesting story lines, not because of any gee-whiz appreciation from audiences for the digital animation. Instead of worrying about technical barriers, online content providers should be worrying about maintaining the same kind of production and entertainment values that Pixar represents.

He thinks that part of the problem is Hollywood--that is, content providers--and Silicon Valley both underestimate each other's contribution.

While his speech focused on the relationship between content and technology in the coming digital economy, Jobs didn't miss the chance to drop remarks about a wide range of industry subjects, including the popularity of Java--"a good language, but not the Second Coming." He let loose a special reprimand for the Baby Bells for being overly cautious about upgrading their networks, a conservatism that Jobs thinks could "stall the digital revolution."