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Who Will Control Your Digital Media?

The web stopped being the exclusive hangout of freaks and geeks (and I use those terms lovingly) long ago. During the bubble years it turned into a place of commerce and information; now it’s turning into a source of entertainment and collaboration. The shift has been easy to see, but what is still unclear is if the digital home will be a consumer-controlled environment or a carrier-controlled one.

Even consumer electronics giants are split, as two items from today make clear. The first is a Forrester report speculating about Apple as the hub of the new digital home by 2013; the second is Samsung realigning its business units, placing its digital music player, laptop computer and set-top box businesses into its telecommunications business.

If you believe that broadband will be the conduit for our entertainment in the future, it makes sense to place your digital media assets into your telecommunications division, as Samsung has done. After all, carriers are the gateway to the broadband pipe and need the tools to deliver entertainment access to their end customers. Microsoft is following that strategy with its MediaRoom platform for IPTV.

However targeting the end consumer makes sense as well. Apple, with the Apple TV and iPod/iTunes, is a prime example. Forrester sees Apple moving to unify the broadband networks with the audio visual networks inside a consumer’s home through some sort of hub strategy combined with installation services. In this scenario, the consumer buys the tools used to access and navigate digital content coming from the web, rather than using an ISP-supplied set-top box.

The carriers work hard to make sure their services are as plug-and-play as possible, but then you’re at the mercy of the carriers. As a consumer, however, there are cons to controlling your own digital media destiny, namely getting everything to work together or having to shell out money to a home audio consultant, member of the GeekSquad or your teenage kid. And even if the consumer-controlled living room does come into existence, the players that could dominate that market — such as as Apple and Sony — rely on closed platforms, limiting what a consumer can do. So maybe consumer control is just an illusion.

11 Responses to “Who Will Control Your Digital Media?”

  1. It is amazing the clout these big companies have on capitol hill, and how much power they have over pro “carrier control” legislation.

    I must say though, that with how open media is today, and with how open minded judges are becoming, I can’t see this turning into a carrier ran industry.

    Check out this blog that expands on how small organizations can capitalize on digital media more fully:

  2. YOU will control your digital media. No need for proprietary boxes, devices or software. Broadband will be the pipe, you PC the brain, and your TV the display. The web will deliver a diverse range of web-enabled services including music, movies, gaming, conferencing, you name it, etc. All we need is a link between the PC and TV which you can do today with a cable on newer units. In the next few years, the PC and TV will link wirelessly (

    Coming soon: Internet Television

  3. AlfieJr

    well, you have the “pipe owners” (Comcast, AT&T et al) who will try to lock you into their set top box or integrated software (like U-Verse that features all their “monetized” services. but they have to give you an
    ‘outside’ internet connection to be competitive, and once you got that, you can go anywhere else and use anyone else’s services too. so no lock-in.

    then you have the “hardware providers” (AppleTV, XBox, Sony, et al) who will connect their set top box to anybody’s pipe but then limit you to the services that hardware supports. so very few will depend on one of these alone for everything, and no one has to.

    finally you have the “platformers” who offer an all-encompassing free software package (iTunes, Windows Media Center) that can unify and deliver all their monetized services/products to your TV and other gadgets. this is where Apple has a big advantage thanks to iPod, the #1 gadget of this era.

    i don’t think any of these options will ever dominate the market, “Control Your Digital Media,” or knock out the others. the market is just too huge. there is lots of room for them all. all us consumers will mix and match several options based on price, content, and convenience – our personal value equations.

    technically savvy consumers will have the most fun and get the best deals, but whoever really delivers ‘plug and play for dummies’ will make the most money.

  4. Stacey Higginbotham

    @Libran, I think setting up a digital hub with access to stream media form the web or other content holders such as an MP3 player, camcorder or cell phone will be more akin to setting up a Wi-Fi network than working a remote control. Not everyone will have problems, but some will. But as Mark points out, good design will help.

    @Curtis, I bet the carriers would love to offer such a service on their LTE or WiMax networks, for a fee, and probably if the content sits on their servers.

  5. Stacey,

    I personally would like to avoid the hardward as middleware (read AppleTV, Vudu, cable providers, etc.). A better scenario for me is that Apple, Sony, Samsung, and any of the other major consumer electronics companies plan for a wireless media base station, that is capable of uploading video and audio media to my TV, home stereo, iPod touch, and my iPhone (or any other mp3 capable phone). This way, as a consumer I can maximize choice in content as opposed to maximizing choice in technology. The former is what I prefer to control.

    I think this scenario is feasible given the recent 700 mhz auction, the and the eminent wimax network. The company (or companies) that pull this off will certainly be positioned to make a large footprint in digital home entertainment.

  6. But is this not obvious?

    Consumers want content and services pushed into their home be it over the air or a cable. There are many companies out there able to do just that. The consumer (and I am not talking tech savvy people like you and I) just wants to pick up a remote and use said service.

    In the past the consumer has had a set top box by their TV that is the interface between the provider and the users TV.

    But of course the services are becoming richer and multi directional and as such a simple set top box is no longer up for the job. It now needs a keyboard, a mouse, a hard drive and the ability to pull content from multiple providers. Kind of sounds like a PC doesn’t it.

    But as you say, the consumer can’t set up a home theatre PC. They can’t even program their VCR (remember them).

    So you need an all singing and all dancing set top box that is a bit like a PC but is plug and play. Now this sounds a bit like a Mac doesn’t it?

    Of course whilst Apple looks well placed to take the prize here it is not hard to see somebod like Asus or MSI come along and steal it from under their noses. All they need is a hybrid device at a very agressive price point that the consumer loves (like they did with the EeePC) and suddenly a whole new product segment is created.

  7. Stacey wrote: As a consumer, however, there are cons to controlling your own digital media destiny, namely getting everything to work together or having to shell out money to a home audio consultant, member of the GeekSquad or your teenage kid.

    This statement reminds me of a time when some people thought that the skills to use remote controls for TV, VCR, etc. or using a computer or even the latest cellphone, were the exclusive domain of “freaks and geeks”, and that such skills were not for the average person. Today, the average person controls these gadgets quite easily. The same principle applies to the digital media hubs of the future. I say, give the consumer max freedom and may the gadgets with the best UI design win!