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MP3, SDMI toast, claims Broadcast.com exec

We'll all be using Net-based broadcast-on-demand services instead, apparently

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MP3 and its potential nemesis, the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), are not the future, Mark Cuban, president and chairman of Broadcast.com told attendees of the MultimediaCom conference, in San Jose, California, yesterday. Instead, Web-based delivery of music and video will be defined by streaming media technologies, predicted the head of a streaming media technology company. Cuban cited MP3's nature as a standard as its weak point. Its specification is fixed, preventing it from being extended and evolving as other technologies and file formats begin to match or even exceed the level of compression and sound quality it offers. He also predicted the SDMI, an attempt by the music industry and technology companies to produce an alternative to MP3 that protects music copyrights, would fail. Other failures would be the leading film rights and CD distribution companies, who, said Cuban, would be dead or have changed beyond recognition before the first decade of the next century was out. Cuban's line is actually an old argument. Back in the early 90s, various pundits predicted that soon we would all be receiving music and video directly via high bandwidth connections, much as we receive TV programmes. Fancy spending a few hours with Maria Callas as Madame Butterfly? Then just dial up the opera on your hi-fi and sit back and listen to it as its zapped over in real time. It's essentially pay-per-view for music. The equivalent for movies was the much hyped video on-demand. Why maintain a collection of tapes/CDs/DVDs when you can call up in an instant any song, album or film at the push of a button? Cuban's slightly more up-to-date version of this old idea foresees a world dominated by the likes of Real Networks -- who, incidentally, he reckons will be bought by a telco within the next 12 months -- and, as intermediaries between technology and consumer, Broadcast.com. You can see his point. The current online music market is driven by PC users who are, generally speaking, happy with downloading files, even those files end up on other systems/media, be they Rios, hi-fi separates or CDs. More mainstream listeners and viewers may not be quite so happy with that PC-oriented approach. An, in a sense, there's the precedent of the video rental store for this new world of music and video only when you want them. That said, just as there's a market for rented tapes, there's also a market for sell-through videos, and its hard to see an industry embarking on flogging DVDs as replacements for all those over-played, chewed up copies of Terminator 2 not getting its money's worth before moving into a direct delivery approach. Given that the companies controlling music and movie production also control their distribution, it's hard to see a company like RealNetworks streaming full-screen, full-motion movies to peoples' TV via the Net if Sony, Universal, Disney et al. refuse to allow them access to their catalogues lest it screw up their DVD sales. Equally, if you know you're going to watch a movie more than seven times, you won't want to pay £2 per view when you can buy a DVD for £15 and get unlimited viewing. Streaming media technologies will therefore have to embrace a wide range of payment modes and overcome consumers' notions that they want something solid for their £15 before it really takes off. Cuban's vision may be realised, but it's going to take rather longer than he predicted this week. ®

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