The Future of Digital Media

TV, Movies, and Music have undergone major changes in the last decade, a revolution brought on by high quality digital compression (mpeg 3 and mpeg 4), which have made high quality video and audio a reality for distribution over the internet.

We now store gigabytes of music, movies, and television shows on our home computers. We can micro-target the content we enjoy, while filtering out that which we don’t. This is a far cry from the ‘olden days’ of buying a whole CD, cassette, or LP just to hear the one good song on the album.

We now ‘time-shift’ all our TV programming, watching what we want when we want. We can now download movies on demand through our cable providers or online services.

Leading the monetization and rights management control of this new digital content delivery world is Apple, with iTunes. Apple was the first to figure out how to partner with the content companies and produce a high quality, platform agnostic application that would be fun and easy for the user. iTunes has become the world’s leading digital media application because of these factors.

We have come far… but now consider this:

When I was in high school I had a small, modest collection of music. They were mostly hard to come by musical theater albums. These albums were expensive for a poor high school student, but they were important to me. Some even had sentimental value tied to the circumstances under which they were purchased. As the years passed, my CDs got lost, borrowed, scratched, or stolen. I had already paid and purchased the content, and yet I find myself now re-purchasing the same content!

Similar things happen in digitally acquired music. People who don’t backup their music can lose everything when their iPods are stolen. If you switch an iTunes account, you can lose access rights to the music you already purchased. If your computer gets lost, stolen, or if it crashes, you can lose a lot of money.

Also, what of the thousands of DVDs that people have purchased, which are now inferior to the new high definition formats?

The future of media, is not in content ownership. You won’t have to build a datacenter in your house to digitally store all those songs and movies you want to own. In fact, you already don’t ‘own’ the content you purchase outright. You are actually buying a license to listen to that music or watch that DVD for ‘private home use.’ You really don’t own the content at all.

So why do most of us buy and re-buy the same content OVER AND OVER during our lives if we have already bought their license for ‘private home use’ once?

Consumers need to demand that content owners honor their licensing of their content to us. Content providers (like iTunes) should track what you’ve purchased, but make that purchase available to you throughout your life – in upgraded formats as they’re available – in every format you want or need.

In my utopia, my iLibrary of DVDs would be available to me on demand over the network. It will know what content I have license to, and provide that content in the best possible format. It will track my content so it can never be lost, stolen, or erased.

Imagine… Entire bookcases and closets in America can be reclaimed from holding massive numbers of CDs and DVDs, and our media can be available to us on any device, any time.

I should also be able to buy and sell my licenses whenever I want, just as I could my CDs. If I want to get rid of an album or movie on eBay, I should be able to transfer that license to any other user on the fair market.

The content generation industry (we used to call these studios, as if it were art) will resist this, because it will ultimately mean less money for them. They also worried that digital distribution of music would make music piracy go up, when the exact opposite has happened.

iTunes has shown the incredible potential for digital media. Now they just need to close the loop and do the right thing for the consumer in providing digital rights management for all content, and having those licenses persist throughout my entire life.

2 thoughts on “The Future of Digital Media”

  1. Wow, that is a very interesting thought that I had never pondered. ACtually I came close to it once, marvelling that people would pay for something (a song on itunes) and never have anything to actually hold in their hand. To basically buy a product that is not tangible. Now I think that would be interesting and nice in a way wouldn’t it? To have the licence program. I don’t think it will ever happen.

  2. You know, does that. They keep track of what you have purchased and you can re-download it whenever you want. But yeah, it really gets on my nerves when I download music from iTunes and then I can’t do anything with it because I’m not an iPerson.

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