The Ownwall: Is 'own-to-stream' the new 'download-to-own'?

When MP3s first came on the scene, some industry observers doubted they would ever catch on because, so the argument went, music lovers would not trade the “physical experience” of a record or CD for the empty, unsatisfying experience of a virtual good that could be electronically downloaded. Well, we know how that one turned out for music.

The video download business, on the other hand, has not fully made that transition. Sure, people do download movies, from both legitimate and illegitimate sources, but the vast majority of video distribution (in the broadest sense of the world) outside of cable/satellite is still based on physical goods, whether rented at the supermarket or bought out of the back of a van.

With increasing bandwidth, emerging media home networking standards, and ever-lower storage costs, it would seem that we are on the verge of the “download-to-own” and “download-to-rent” markets taking off, right? Well we’ve been on the verge for a while now, and I don’t think it’s a matter of technology. What if that’s the wrong model for video content?

In the meantime, streaming has emerged as the distribution model of choice for short-form video, including user-generated content: YouTube serves 1B streams per day. Increasingly, streaming video is also extending to TV programs and feature film, ie professionally-produced, long-form content. In the US, Hulu alone sources roughly 1 billion streams per month. Traditional broadcasters around the world (including the BBC) are also getting in on the action, with TV Everywhere, Catch-up TV and Over-the-top being variations on a common theme.

As more and more consumer electronics devices have built-in Internet access, whether it’s a $69 broadband box or a $1,000 Connected TV, we are getting to the point where accessing content in the cloud is not only technically feasible, it is just much more convenient. No longer having to move files around, I can access the content wherever I may roam.

There is still much room for business model innovation. “Paywall” seems to be the buzzword of the month. (Whatever happened to “subscription”?) Time-based access such as rental also lends itself to streaming. But there is also an opportunity to use streaming for content that users have “bought”, although not too many people seem to be using this model yet.

Think of it as a permanent right to access the content you’ve bought, without being burdened by moving files around. I call this the Ownwall. The greatest consumer benefit is that the content is available wherever there is an Internet connection — and these days, in most areas you need to try hard to go somewhere where there isn’t one.

A couple of industry initiatives like DECE and KeyChest are promoting the notion of a “rights locker” that keeps track of all the content you’ve bought. Maybe this is just me, but the term “rights locker” elicits some negative associations — smelly socks and athlete’s foot. What did my rights do wrong to get locked up? My reservations with the terminology aside, if successful these initiatives will represent a step in the right direction. (Nyuk, nyuk. Get it? The right direction. I crack myself up sometimes).

Consumers will be able to aggregate the content they purchase from any participating retailer and download it to their devices. DECE goes beyond this by defining their own media format and enabling content downloaded to one device to be side-loaded to another device, as long as it is in the user’s “domain” of approved devices. (Full disclosure: I represent Adobe in DECE; however, the description provided here is based on publicly available information.)

Now, if all content lives in the cloud and I can stream it to my notebook/netbook/tablet/smarphone/smartbook/connected TV/[add device not yet invented here], then maybe all of this could be a lot simpler. I could go around buying content, and have instant access to it on any Internet-enabled device. Interoperability is handled in the cloud, which is not as daunting as it sounds, since in practice there really aren’t that many complete platforms for video distribution out there.

But wait, there’s more: as the technology gets better (more interactivity, higher resolution, 3D, 4D, holodeck), so can my content experience. I don’t need to re-download, because I never downloaded in the first place; the next time I go to watch the movie, I am pleasantly surprised by the upgraded experience.

Most of this is possible today — well, maybe not the 4D stuff. There are still some open questions, such as “How can I be sure I can go back 20 years from now and still retrieve my content?” (I would answer that one with another question: do you use Gmail?) Or “What if I’m on a plane or in a submarine and can’t access the Internet?” (I say design for the main use case and accommodate the corner case, not the other way around.)

At the end of the day, consumers will provide the answer. As technology/content providers our role is to enable and experiment, and then let the market decide. What do you think will be the predominant model? Is ‘own-to-stream’ the new ‘download-to-own’?

Florian
Twitter: @florianatadobe

Psyched about Partner Summit

Next week will be the Flash Media Distribution Partner Summit at Adobe. This is an event by invitation only, and it’s already oversold. It’s a great chance to meet with partners who are helping customers everywhere adopt Flash for their video distribution needs.

As usual, my focus will be on monetization: what are the emerging trends for ways to build a business around content distribution? I’ll touch upon some of the new industry initiatives such as DECE and KeyChest — unfortunately it’ll have to be pretty light on details due to confidentiality issues. And of course I’ll cover the work we are doing around Flash Access and how partners can participate.

Lastly, I’ve manage to stay up on my tweeting. You can find me at http://twitter.com/florianatadobe.

F

DECE Adopts Adobe Flash Access

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) has selected the upcoming Adobe® Flash® Access software as one of the approved content protection solutions required for premium video.

Adobe is a DECE Founder, and there are over 45 companies from every industry involved in digital media participating in this effort. In case you haven’t heard of DECE before, it is a consortium of leading technology vendors, content providers, consumer electronics companies, and service providers working to enable improved consumer access to entertainment content.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time over the last year or so working in DECE with representatives of these various companies, so it was great to be able to announce a number of key milestones today. Adobe is pleased to contribute to the creation of a vibrant ecosystem that makes possible new ways to connect users with premium content. DECE’s adoption of Adobe Flash Access will vastly expand the reach for DECE content and generate new revenue streams for participants.

Flash Access software will allow retailers and content owners to utilize the Flash Platform to reach hundreds of millions of devices in a short period of time, enabling compelling end-user experiences. DECE’s approval also signals broad studio support for this technology.

If you follow this blog, you probably already know that the Adobe Flash Platform is a complete system of integrated tools, frameworks, clients and servers for the development of Web applications, content and video that runs consistently across operating systems and devices.

Adobe Flash Access 2.0, a key component of the Adobe Flash Platform, is a scalable, flexible content protection solution that enables the distribution and monetization of premium content. Flash Access 2.0 provides a way to combine the unprecedented reach and interactivity of the Adobe Flash Platform with robust security and flexible usage rules so that businesses can enforce necessary constraints, such as limiting viewing to a given rental period or set of devices.

As announced last year, content protected with Flash Access 2.0 will play on the upcoming version of Flash Player. Adobe Flash Player is on over 98 percent of connected computers and delivers approximately 75 percent of Web video worldwide. Major broadcasters and media companies including Hulu, Warner Brothers, MLB.com, and DirecTV use the Adobe Flash Platform, which also powers the popular social media sites YouTube and MySpace.