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Realizing the Future of Digital Content

  Article published in DM Direct Newsletter
May 31, 2002 Issue
  By Jurij R. Paraszczak

How will the world of media including broadcasting, television, print and the Internet embrace the emerging global digital standards? Deregulation and emerging global networks have shaken the world of telecommunications. The same networks and digitization processes are about to cause a similar shake up in the world of media.

In order for media vehicles to realize the full potential of digital content, media companies need to be able to distribute digital content securely in any media and to any place - and be able to measure the results.

What is the potential of digital content? It begins with the digital conversion process, or the process of changing content (video, text, audio or image) from traditional analog forms to new digital formats, which allows global access using standardized tools and storage. With more than one-million terabytes of data stored in digital file systems and more than thirty thousand times that stored as analog film, paper and audio/videotape, the ability to control these massive amounts of data is indeed the challenge and the promise of the digital age.

From the creation of newsletters to the distribution of financial information, from the delivery of distance learning to businesses and educational establishments to the interactivity available on the Web and television - digital content is pervasive and will permeate every aspect of modern enterprise.

Unlike physical goods which need to be moved and are secured through existing processes such as locks, freight containers or warehouses, digital content requires new workflows, methods of transport and security capabilities which ensure the rights of the content owner and permit licensees of the content to use it easily. Like physical goods, digital content generates value as it moves from creator to consumer enabled by the processes of e-business.

The next generation of e-business is evolving to create marketplaces and trading hubs where information is rapidly disseminated. Content owners, creators and consumers will need to be connected through an e-business network of relationships allowing rapid trading, negotiation and manipulation of digital media. The following tech trends are emerging:

Growth in Bandwidth

The enormous growth of backbone bandwidth that connects major metropolitan areas is the first step in enabling the rapid movement of media as it increases use of digital formats. In an attempt to create new marketplaces and to capture market share, some carriers are completely changing the way in which they provide connectivity and even how they charge for this bandwidth. This is a startling, never-been-tried-before approach and will enable the collaborative use of high- resolution video and audio in a manner which could only be dreamt of previously.

Ease of Manipulation of Digital Content

At the same time, the ability to capture media and to move it to an editing station has never been easier. Digital video cameras are emerging which compress the video on the fly and send it out through a firewire port to a PC where inexpensive software easily allows simple editing to create a finished piece. This would have demanded semi-professional equipment costing 10 to 50 times the amount only two years ago.

Rise in Legitimate Sharing of Digital Content

The ability to use digital content, which allows flawless copies to be made, is also reducing barriers to its open availability. Where once the difficulty of making multiple copies from a master was a tedious process fraught with limitations, today the dissemination of a copy of a music track is almost instantaneous, thanks to widely available tools and networks which can easily upload a track of a CD converted to a format that small handheld players can store and replay instantaneously. Tools which allow unauthorized copying of digital movies are freely available on the Internet. These same tools also allow the content to be taken from a DVD and compressed enough to store on a standard CD and freely distributed to anyone owning a PC to play at their leisure. For those not wishing to wait for physical distribution, a DSL or cable modem can download a movie treated in this way in a reasonable amount of time.

Growth in Wireless Connections

New wireless connections, based on infrared or Bluetooth allow content to be exchanged between two parties easily - creating an exploding network of copies, while ubiquitous access to wireless networks provides the promise of delivering data to anyone anywhere. All of this capability has definitely not escaped the notice of the content owners, who are turning to technology to help them. The rapid growth of content copy protection and digital rights management technology attests to this, while the growth of legislation and legal activity points to the high value ascribed to this content.

Decreasing Storage Costs

By mid 2003, the cost of storage will drop to $1/GB, making it possible to store significant amounts of any content imaginable. The crossing of this cost/technology barrier is already changing the way media is distributed and managed. New devices, such as digital video recorders embedded in TV set top boxes are emerging which allow instantaneous access to content in a non-linear manner.

New Digital Conversion Formats

The power of converting content to the digital form is the ability to move physical objects (requiring a physical and uncontrolled workflow) and put them on a network where they become part of an e-business system - a quantified and efficient operation where the workflow is set by a number of rules once and then dutifully repeated. Once digitized the content can be handled using an equally efficient and repeatable set of applications, based on the use of an e-business framework. This framework is designed to provide an overall architectural approach and a set of standards for communication, delivery and viewing, which allows rapid implementation and easy interconnection of functions.

Emerging protocols and standards such a simple object access protocol (SOAP), universal device discovery interface (UDDI) and XML are allowing systems and devices to communicate, to register their capabilities and to create services from separated functions. Indeed, they are extending simple communication of content to the complete business logic including trading agreements, legal liabilities and financial terms.

Preparation for Digital Transformation

Companies are preparing for these changes in various ways. Some have archived film and other physical material - it is the value and fragility which drives the decision to digitization. For others, decisions to digitize the content are associated with new business opportunities or just simply the desire to make their operation more efficient, to allow them to connect their offerings to other companies' systems - creating value which was unavailable from the sum of the two offerings alone.

Often this interconnection provides increased efficiencies, such as those obtained in the automobile industry where the supply chain management process has extended a value web all the way from the manufacture of the plastic component to the shipping of the car to the dealer.

The Future of Digital Media

Vendors are committed to the emerging field of rich media, which is pervading not just the entertainment and media industry but all industries. This rich media, which consists of multimedia content connected to some form of data - whether embedded as a watermark, associated to describe the content or attached to allow users to interact with it, represents the future of digital media. This rich media thus has some level of intelligence associated with it which allows a scope of interactivity which could only be dreamt of before.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Content Management.

Jurij R. Paraszczak is currently the chief technology officer for the Global Digital Media Sector of IBM which is developing new opportunities for digital content solutions across a variety of market segments including entertainment and media, telecommunications, retail, education and government. Paraszczak has more than 55 publications in various areas of telecommunications, technology and systems and more than 16 patents in a wide variety of fields including communications, plasma chemistry, microlithography, materials manipulation and chip fabrication.

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