Sunday, December 04, 2005
4GM: Perception Wars
Ooohhhh, Waid .... gaze upon this and despair.
This spiffy device currently on sale converts everything ... everything you have that flies, swims or crawls like entertainment into MPEG-4's, then either lets you dump those files onto the media of your choice or plays the goodies back itself like a VCR. (as usual, via BoingBoing)
Its top resolution is 640x480, which won't fly on your HD but will muddle through okay on your analog tube, and certainly look spiffy on your laptop or other portable.
Why do I like this stuff? Well, it's part of my 4th Generation Media Theory -- the profitability of future shows will not only depend on mob-dissemination of the products; there will be a direct relationship between the availability of good-but-not-great copies of those shows -- which can therefore be traded more much easily -- and the said profits. The faster we mainstream port-ability, we mainstream in the perception of trade-ability.
Now, this part of the theory will evolve as the nature of "where I download stuff" and "where I watch stuff" converges. The tactics used in that next phase are beginning to reveal themselves -- hmm, let's actually pick this apart for a moment.
There are two pieces of news which show some promise for the evolution of 4GM. First, the FCC has come out in favor of a la carte cable services. This won't change the mechanics of TV distribution all that much, but again moves audience perception along a very important curve for 4GM -- it changes the perception of TV/entertainment from something shoved down a pipline to them into something they choose. And as soon as they begin choosing the material , if only in the broad "what channels do I choose" sense, the nature of their relationship with the media changes. To be blunt, I think that most people won't bother to parse through the basic cable package channel list, but it's another chink in the wall.
The other bit of news is more a rumor(leading us into the tactics discussion mentioned above): the buzz is Apple will make some heavy-duty announcements about moving into the home entertainment business and expanding its downloadable media deals to include other companies than Disney/Touchstone. CBS and NBC are possibilities. Now CBS and NBC already have deals in place with Comcast and DirectTV, respectively, so why the dabbling with Apple? I've written previously that I believe the delivery-systems will be the ultimate winners in the downloadable entertainment wars, but as I mentioned in the same post, Apple basically used (think total pwnage, please) the ABC deal to bootstrap itself into first place in the Perception Wars. If they wield that early advantage ruthlessly ... It'll be a race now, between Apple locking down the "source of all your media" spot in the consumer's mind, and cable's "we are the source, the box is meaningless" destiny.
The wild card here, of course, is the ubiquitousness of gaming platforms among the 18-25 year-olds. For many young men in particular, the XBox is their media hub. I haven't had a chance to play with the media options on the XBox 360 yet (any Penny Arcade-style geniuses, feel free to enlighten us in the comments) but if it's anything like the Windows Media Center software ... ugh. As we all know, Microsoft loses money on every XBox 360 sold. Most industry folk see this as a calculated risk to recoup money on the insanely profitable game software side. However, in the conversations I've had with some evil Microsoft zerglings, the idea that they're trying to get an entire generation to back into Microsoft as their set-top box has been floated as a fairly convincing rationale. We'll see if Microsoft manages to conquer its love of DRM thoroughly enough to become a useful player in the Perception Wars.