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New Kids in Town: Adobe Media Player and Microsoft Silverlight take online video into new territory

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Adobe Media Player
Despite the explosion in Flash Video’s popularity over the last two years, thanks mainly to YouTube and other user-generated content sites, its limitations had been coming under more and more scrutiny. The Adobe Media Player—which is set for beta release this summer—answers Flash’s critics as well as extends Adobe’s reach in the content delivery chain.

"We’ve had the creation and distribution components," says Mark Randall, chief strategist in Adobe’s Dynamic Media Organization. "Now, we’ve got the consumption and playback component." Randall emphasizes that Adobe Media Player is a lightweight download that offers what he calls three critical features: higher-quality Flash Video, anonymous metrics for content publishers and advertisers, and a social media component including tagging and consumer ratings.

The Consumer Experience
From a consumer standpoint, the Adobe Media Player is intuitive and straightforward. Viewers can view videos within the player or in full screen, they can create playlists of their favorite shows, and they can subscribe to RSS feeds of their favorite content. The player is free to viewers and will accept any RSS-enabled content, free of charge to the publisher. At press time, Adobe had assembled a group of what it’s calling Flash Media Solution Providers—publishers who either plan to use or are collaborating in the development of the Adobe Media Player—including blip.tv, Brightcove, Feedburner, Maven Networks, Motionbox, and thePlatform.

"Consumers won’t see Adobe’s brand at all," says Barberich. "Our philosophy is to let media publishers take over the experience and customize it to their liking. Our research and vision says that viewers want almost an email experience, where they subscribe to content and it all comes into the player."

He adds that while part of the appeal of the web is the ability to find an almost endless supply of content, Adobe believes that people are now more interested in "filtering down" that content. "When someone first starts watching video online, they might watch thousands of videos," Barberich says. "Eventually, they’re going to settle on a few sites that they really like, and want those to be delivered to them every day."

Barberich says that while Adobe isn’t going to monetize the player via licensing fees, putting the player out there supports the company’s strategy to "monetize the entire ecosystem, from creation to delivery."

What’s In It for Publishers and Advertisers?
Publishers will monetize their content via an advertising model that uses SMIL to deliver pre- and post-roll ads, as well as text-based ads and "bugs" video, graphic, Flash animation, or text overlays that run on top of the content rather than interrupting it. When content is downloaded, so are the ads, and user information is collected anonymously via cookies, whether the content is played back while connected to the internet or offline; if it’s viewed offline, the measurements are sent to the advertiser or publisher when the user reconnects.

Users can opt out of metrics collection by declining a cookie from the application; advertisers and publishers can, of course, leverage this by giving viewers access to premium content only if they opt in.

Of course, with downloadable content comes digital rights management concerns, which Adobe is addressing in two ways. First is what it calls "content integrity protection," which allows publishers to merge together content and advertising in a way that prevents end users from "pulling apart" the video, says Barberich. "Viewers are presented with the advertising even when the video spreads virally."

Second is "identity-based protection," which locks downloaded Flash Video content to a particular machine or number of machines so that users can’t pirate or share it in ways that conflict with the publishers’ intentions. Publishers can use both content protection methods, just one, or neither.

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