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The Perfect Storm: 2006 Media & Entertainment Year in Review

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Even divisions of media conglomerates are getting into the act. Sony licensed an embedded IM client from a small company in Greenville, South Carolina, to include in Sony’s Mylo Wi-Fi personal media tool. Besides IM, though, the device is capable of sharing content, although it was unknown at press time whether this would only be unprotected content or content from Sony BMG’s music group.

According to a recent article in PC World, and backed by the TI-Gartner research, the constraints to moving toward a media-anywhere universe are created more by Hollywood than by hardware. "In five years you’ll be able to spend your money and time on a vast amount of content from different outlets, simply because that’s what consumers want," says Anystream chairman Geoff Allen. "And if the supply chain won’t legally provide it, consumers will find a way to steal it."

The basic justification for denying consumers the ability to view content they’ve purchased on any device they own falls somewhere between "only buying once robs the artist of his rightful funds" to the less-frequently verbalized "we’ve always made consumers pay for viewing content on different mediums, so why change now," and has been backed by the big stick known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which the entertainment industry has resolutely used to beat true perpetrators and unsuspecting consumers with equal abandon. Labels argue the true value of every stolen song is upwards of $750 per download, forgetting that they only sell the CD for $15 and that it typically contains 10–15 songs, and that most consumers only buy a particular album one time.

When the political and business decisions of the record labels and movie studios catch up with the reality of digital distribution, several companies stand poised to gain from the buy-once-play-anywhere model. These companies include transcoding companies like Anystream and Telestream as well as companies who specialize in synchronizing content from one device to another, such as Apple’s .Mac service and newcomers like Sharpcast (which currently only syncs photos among different devices, but is working on Project Hummingbird, which will extend the functionality to audio and video).

"The idea is to have the same view of your stuff wherever you go," says Gibu Thomas, CEO of Sharpcast. "If I have iTunes on my home PC, I should be able to log on to it from my mobile device and see the same playlists."

Is That an iPod or a Textbook in Your Pocket?
Other companies have moved ahead with plans to synchronize content, skirting DMCA completely by only synchronizing non-DRM content or user-generated content, to early critical acclaim.

Regardless of whether the student or user is happy to see it, the iPod and other portable media devices have also moved beyond a cool entertainment device into the realm of just-in-time information delivery tool. Take, for instance, the announcement by several universities, including Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, that they are using Apple’s iTunes U service to deliver all class lectures as podcasts and—to avoid 21st-century variations on "the dog ate my homework" excuses—are equipping students with their own iPods. While these schools are equipping students with audio-only iPods, several companies used the announcement of a video-based iPod to push YouTube-like social networking, alongside specialized how-to content, into the mainstream.

One such company, the British firm VideoJug, followed a small American company named ViewDo into the market in late July. Both companies provide short "how-to" videos covering tasks from changing a flat tire to making guacamole. The intent is to move content from the living room to the point of need by delivering it in portable media player-friendly formats, according to VideoJug’s founder Dan Thompson.

The difference between VideoJug and ViewDo is that ViewDo is focused on allowing consumers to share their own knowledge with others, while VideoJug aims primarily to generate its own content for digestion by consumers. ViewDo co-founder Alan Puccinelli explains how the company hopes to scale the site’s content, in an example of how consumer-generated content sites such as YouTube and MySpace rapidly scaled up their sites after initial tests.

"Currently our content is a mix of ViewDos that we have created and that have been submitted by our users," says Puccinelli. "That said, we recognize that in order to become the community for how-to videos online, the ‘idea’ of ViewDo is much larger than just us. While we enjoy creating ViewDos on things that we know about and interest us, we know that the future bulk of our content exists with the rest of the world. Therefore, we are really working on encouraging submissions from the public, as everyone has knowledge that’s worth sharing."

The response from users of do-it-yourself sites has also been positive.

"Edutainment used to be a word that meant some textbook company was putting their content online," says one college student interviewed for this article. "With these new sites, my friends and I can share ideas and experiences with each other in a brand new way.

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