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Sony has announced an "open broadband alliance", conspicuously uncapitalised, with AOL-Time Warner. The two giants will collaborate on a new browser and enhanced home networking for consumer devices, Sony CEO Nobuyuki Idei said at Comdex.

The announcement is long on good intentions and short on details, but the overall thrust is explicit enough: to lessen the role of the PC in delivering multimedia content in the future. AOL and Sony are principally content providers - AOL with its Time Warner media properties, and Sony with its movie studios.

You might well be thinking that the PC has already written itself out of any role as a future 'digital hub' simply because it's so noisy, expensive, unreliable and inconvenient (taking a minute to start, which is a minute longer than your radio).

The PC platform has compromised on all of these factors to keep itself a fast PC platform, which is fine, but it makes it less than optimal as a mass market content delivery vehicle.

Steve Case spoke of the day when broadband will deliver "all of a family's home entertainment, information and communication needs". Sony said it would add its "core competencies" of "creating hardware and new lifestyle" [sic] ... and "allowing people to fulfill their dreams".

Do these people really believe a single word of what they say, we wonder?

AOL/Sony Unbound

This is bound to be portrayed as an anti-Microsoft alliance, which it is, after a fashion. But both companies will hope for the same regulatory environment that permitted The Beast to spring from the wreckage of the AntiTrust case without so much as paying court fees to endure. The power of the entertainment industry to enforce rights management systems of its choice would be greatly strengthened by tie-ups, such as the Sony AOL deal. For all its "crimes", Microsoft does not have a significant inventory of media properties.

The media regulators have not begun to look at the implications of media owners controlling the playback devices too. They seem incapable of that level of joined-up thinking. ®

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