Streaming Media West: Mobile Media

This morning sessions were focused on mobile content, podcasting and video blogging. There weren’t any revelations to be had, though it’s interesting to know what the “industry” guys are thinking. Here’s my impressions about the first session: Mobile Media, Portable Media & Personal Broadcasting

Refreshingly, none of the panelists fed a lot of hype, and that seems to be something encouraged by the conference organizers—you’re discouraged for using the panel as an opportunity to sell. No declarations of mobile video being the next big thing, some admissions that the US moves slower with wireless/cell tech.

By and large, the session on delivering mobile content was focused on getting mainstream content—from major producers—to consumers in a form they want. No other major agenda here: sell and monetize. Despite the “Personal Broadcasting” part of the title, that was not the focus, except for the inclusion of the guy behind the video blogging site Andrew Michael Baron. Rocketboom posts a short low-budget “news” video every day, which is similar to the Daily Show or SNL News in tone.

I’ve watched it occasionally, but never been too impressed. It’s a little stiff and obvious, but I respect the fact that they do it and get it posted every damn day. Andrew livened things up a tad, since he brings a more independent perspective then the more mainstream industry guys. Though, my guess is that he’s still about building a business and getting paid. And he’s not yet serving out Rocketboom over wireless devices.

The mainstream media industry is trying to figure out how to deliver video over cell phones, something that’s moving more slowly in the US than Europe and Asia. As an independent media maker, it seems like the big problem with the current industry thinking is that it’s all about closed systems – producers (like NBC, CNN, etc) partner with middlemen, who provide the technology, who then partner with wireless providers, like Verizon. With cellular, the provider controls the network in a much more direct fashion than the Internet.

The other impediment I see with wireless/cellular video, is the fact that there are no apparent standards. It seems to be wholly vendor/carrier dependent.

These aren’t just problems for independent media makers and Indymedia. They’re also problems for education. At the University of Illinois, we have student using 5 different wireless carriers with countless different phones. It’s highly unlikely the University can require 30,000 undergraduate students to have a certain carrier and cell phone. So, effectively, that’s not a way we can serve audio or video to students.

Now, that may change if new generation wireless networks open up more to high-speed Internet, rather than just proving high speed access only to their content.

One interesting point raised by the representative from The Platform, is that the PC is not going away, and so that can provide a connection point to find and manage content. That’s the model for podcasting and video blogging – you download from your PC to your iPod, video or MP3 player. It works, and is based more on open standards than wireless/cell technology is.

It’s clear that the cell/wireless industry (Verizon, Cingular, et al) is not interested in allowing their devices (phones) access the broad world of Internet media. They want you to buy what they sell, so they can profit not just from network use charges, but from skimming off the subscription fees.

Frankly, this is true of the major broadband providers, too. The likes of SBC would prefer not to provide access to just anybody’s video or audio, but they’re swimming against the tide on that one—the cat’s already out of the bag. The wireless/cell networks started out as closed, and so it’s easier to keep them closed.

Clearly, independent media makers do not want to see world where most people receive most of their mobile/portable content via a closed wireless/cellular network controlled exclusively by the service providers and dominant media producers for a subscription fee, on top of the cost of wireless service.

The question is: will this be prevented because users and consumers won’t be satisfied just buying their pre-selected subscription content, will hardware makers rebel (so they don’t have to obey the wireless providers), or will there have to be a bigger fight?



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