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How long until the mobile is the heart of entertainment?

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Set tops, PCs, TVs and hi-fi may all speak Wireless USB, but their data types also need to be recognisable, as do their metadata and XML tagging systems. As long as the consumer electronics companies continue to stick firmly to a broad standards roadmap, then this is all possible in the short term.

We can then build out an EPG that is not just a phone EPG, but a "nearby device" EPG. Each data component would be like an open broadcast web service to the handset and it would display what's on your Pay TV system, your PC, your friend's phone, on a content web site you have subscribed to, on the DVR and on your gaming systems, and MP3 players, both portable and fixed.

Such an EPG could also have hidden elements. So for instance if you decide to show your personalised hand held EPG on the TV screen, you can hold back the adult content, private pictures or anything that you don't want to have public.

The real problem here is DRM, except that it's not a problem. This entire idea only becomes politically acceptable when one company is at the heart of most of these services. So a quadruple play can offer entitlement messages delivered to any secure device, and use either a home DVR or a PC as an entitlement issuer. Entitlement messages are the encrypted keys that are sent alongside content, that will unlock it as long as your device has a key that can unlock the entitlement message.

A centralised license server for all devices types can be put together easily and no clever interoperability tricks are required between different alien DRMs.

But it's not just DRM that presents a problem here, but presentation graphics and interaction. At present there are no standards for sending interactivity messages as feedback. You might use html, but there are many other schemes currently being offered. So watching your TV and responding, perhaps voting, with your handset as if it is the remote control, with the return path through your fixed broadband link, needs to result in the same outcome as when you use mobile web to respond, or a Wi-Fi link to the fixed line or used SMS to vote.

In fact, it's better if the device decides on the route for the interaction, leaving the consumer to decide on the voting process. Of course there are thousands of scenarios to work out.

At work you don't want to display your favorite TV shows instead of your business slides using a phone and a projector. At home there needs to be a pecking order in who gets to change the TV channel or push the record button on the DVR, and that needs to be built into systems.

There needs to be defaults that say that when the handset is going to run out of storage, it doesn't try to record a film on the handset, but defaults to the home DVR.

Another service this all gives operators is audience measurement. Nielsen is the master of audience measurement, and it spends millions maintaining a monopoly in simply telling advertisers and TV channels what people are watching, but an always on handset, that acts as the controller for turning these devices on and off, and changing channel could do that automatically, for the price of some software that records and interprets control button pushes.

These thoughts always seem most obvious when visiting exhibitions with stands full of remote control devices. How anyone can consider adding more, but they do. One for each TV, each DVD player, each DVR, each music player, each VHS player.

Of course, this cannot happen in a way that makes it a detriment to the cellular operator and it has to come as a differentiator for the cellular services. After all there has to be a reason for subsidy for the handset, at least for a while longer, and that comes from a motive by the cellular operator of offering something that retains customer loyalty in the basic handset functions, even if that means continued expensive mobile voice. Our best guess is that the handset will begin to emerge as the heart of all entertainment in the 2010 to 2012 time frame.

Copyright © 2006, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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