Monday, March 09, 2009

One Copy

There seems to be a natural progression in the media world. It starts with analogue, physical goods such as magazines, newspapers, CDs and DVDs and then moves into digital physical goods such as MP3s and downloads and then moves into digital virtual goods.

News has long entered the third phase, without barely touching the second, with more news now read online than offline. Music is just entering the third phase with the release of ‘all you can eat’ music packages on mobiles – although files are still often downloaded, albeit temporarily.

The trouble with the second phase is that copies of the media can be scattered to the winds and end up in undesirable – to the eyes of the content owners, at least – places like Pirate Bay (OK, I know that Pirate Bay is technically a signpost not a place, but bear with me...).

It strikes me that there is a real opportunity for video to go straight to the third phase. Totally getting rid of piracy is impossible. I can, after all, point a camera onto my LCD and record anything, but having a single copy of any item would seem to be far more secure than distributing millions of copies, even with DRM.

So, is this technically possible? Well, it’s getting more realistic as bandwidth improves.

A cinema using digital projection can request the file on the fly; a user wanting video on their mobile phone tunes into the relevant stream. It’s actually how old fashioned broadcasting worked.

But there are issues with the One Copy world, of course. There will always be the need to cache and buffer files, so there will always be the opportunity to stream sniff and capture the bits and bytes as they go through. On a more practical level, people like to know that they can play content they have paid for any time, any place and there are bits of the UK where Carter’s 2Mbps won’t reach any time soon.

However, it does strike me that there is a business opportunity here for the CDNs to offer a new service built around security rather than reliability.

It may seem a long way off, but, as they say, you never see the future as it’s rushing past you.

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