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The Big Bopper

I've seen a good few weblog entries in the last few weeks about business and startups emphasising finding customer pain points. Well, home media is wall to wall pain.

Here's Russell Beattie: "What I’m trying to convey is a simple thought: Home Media is still complete chaos."

Good write up. Now if only I could find the link to the article on setting a media centre for the home up I rest this week (I think it was on Tom's hardware). Creating that chaos is hard work.

Nonetheless I'm impressed Russell got through all that without mentioning the following show stoppers:

  1. Control: so you wired it all up. What will you use as the bopper*?
  2. DRM: so you wired it all up. Now comes non-interoperability by design.

Even assuming you can get it all set up, DRM and a media Controller remain problems.

Anyone who thinks they can get people to operate a media centre via a laptop or PC is nuts. By coincidence we were talking about this exact problem in work during the week, and came to the conclusion that something like an Archos or a wireless PDA is the ideal bopper for a media center. I suggested a tablet PC to start, because of the form factor, but they're much too fragile. An Archos PMA 400 is more robust and has a better chance of survival. A PSP could work but inputting commands into one of those is immensely tedious - plus I wouldn't want to drop a PSP. There's a lot of pain in wiring up and configuring just a sane file management system for the home, never mind media center, and I think whoever comes up with a combined storage/player/bopper solution for the home is going to make a lot of money, assuming they are not sabotaged by DRM. I think one way to be a pure software play in this market is to partner with a device maker and leverage their channels, and in doing so avoiding signing over exclusive distribution rights to hardware guys. A solution also needs to Just Back Things Up - the days of archiving fotes by putting your negatives into a shoebox are over, however I imagine there are millions and millions of digital photos out there just waiting for a hardrive failure to be vaporised. Ultimately what's disruptive about this problem is that you need to build a system and sell it is a product. Nick Carr thinks consumers don't want systems, they want products - "Consumers certainly want to share Internet connections with other family members, and some of them may want to share a printer over a home network, but beyond that they show little interest in connectivity" , but this is short-sighted. Homes now have more data than enterprises did 30 years ago and the volume of personal data and content being digitized is increasing a rapid clip. Give it time. What people want is convenience. Interestingly, you can't take this pain away with products - in fact adding more products makes the problem worse. It's a classic systems integration problem that someone like BEA, IONA or EMC would have an intuitive grasp of, but it's happening in the home not the enterprise. There are no good stories out there on how a family manages terabytes of data. None.

The DRM issue is largely imposed by content providers, and is only growing. This year or next could be the year consumers pushed back on not being able to listen to or watch content on their system of choice. I speculate that one vector for this will be, of all things, UMDs for the Playstation Portable. In Ireland a UMD retails for about 30 euro, whereas the equivalent DVD could be got for as little as 10 euro. Assuming you upgrade the memory stick to 512Mb or 1Gb you can burn DVDs for playback on the PSP. But the legal and technical status around DVD burning is extrememly vague. Ripping DVDs is also more effort than most people want to go through. However, tell Joe Consumer after shelling out for a PSP that they have to buy Pirates Of The Carribean twice for the kids, once for a relatively portable medium (DVD) and once again for a non-portable format (UMD) which can cost up to 3 times as much, and I predict a riot. I'm also seeing an interesting pattern of people just not buying media of late, either because they don't know what they can do with a DVD/CD, what the limitations across devices are, or don't know what malware or junk the discs are spraying onto their PCs. The back catalog is big enough. In trying to maintain the value and stranglehold over current physical distribution channels, the entertainment industry seems to be creating real problems for itself. Finally, you can't help but wonder if in the next few years war by proxy will be fought in the home between content electronics and software companies with DRM as the weapon of choice.

* A "bopper" is what we call a remote control in our house.

January 13, 2006 07:51 PM