With the death of HMV and Blockbuster this week, I’ve done some radio interviews on the future of the high street and one on the future of media. I wrote about retailing yesterday so today I’ll pick up on media. I wrote a while back that Spotify isn’t the future of music, not in its current form anyway, though I will admit that streaming is part of the future. Spotify will probably up its game and survive. If it doesn’t, it won’t. (I didn’t properly answer the question then of what the future would actually be. I will now.)
CDs aren’t the future of music either. DVDs or Blu-rays aren’t the future of video. Think about it. If you were starting from scratch today, would you base media distribution on plastic discs that have to be spun quickly in a mechanical device, and need to be read by lasers, are easily damaged, and take up lots of storage space? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d almost certainly go for either solid state or web storage. I’d go for solid state. Here’s why.
Web storage is fine as long as you have a good connection all the time and don’t have to pay for data downloads. I think we will still have streaming services in the far future and they might even remain a large market, but streaming isn’t a perfect solution. Transmitting data requires energy, and transmitting lots of data streams to lots of customers requires big server farms. It also clogs up bandwidth and that is limited too.
Downloading to local storage is also fine to a point. It is a large market now, and will remain so for some time. But there are also big problems with it. Licenses are not the same for downloaded music. You have a much more restricted ownership of music you buy online. The companies’ desire to protect their revenue is a higher priority for them that giving their customers full rights, just as it is with streaming (another reason streaming is not what it could be). With physical media, even though you may have ripped (and hence stolen) the content of the disc before you transferred it, the disc itself stops being yours if you pass it on to someone else. The concept of ownership and theft is very clear with physical media. With an MP3, less so. It is clear that the extra actual cost to the music provider is zero if you give a copy of an MP3 away, and you won’t buy a replacement anyway, and they probably wouldn’t either, so there is no clear revenue loss, so you can easily reason away any guilt in keeping a copy. So the music companies put in stuff like copy protection and non-transferable licenses that make it harder to keep your music organised, use it on multiple devices, recover it after disk crashes or sell it on when you’re bored with it. And with an MP3, you don’t have a nice box to look at and know that you own it. The music companies are more conspicuously stingy with MP3s too. If you are downloading the music, why don’t you get the music videos thrown in too? It’s obvious with the CD, there isn’t space on the disc, so you don’t mind, and the tradition has never been there anyway. A DVD could contain the video, but would cost more. With online music, you can usually watch it on YouTube so why don’t you get a proper decent resolution copy when you actually pay for it?
Anyway, solid state storage. I don’t want to be stuck with CDs or DVDs, and would much prefer to get a USB memory stick with the media on. I could plug it straight into my home cinema systems and watch a full Dolby Digital 7.1 Hi-def music video, preferably in 3D. I could easily play or transfer the files to any device I want. But that’s just today. Already, flexible displays and flexible batteries are appearing in electronics shows. It won’t be long at all before they are extremely common.
This is a demo flexible battery/display from Samsung. This is far more suited to carrying around and everyday abuse than glass. This could be a general purpose display but is also perfectly suited to be an all-round CD/DVD replacement, eventually. It will cost too much initially to directly replace CDs or DVDs or downloads, but the price of such devices is governed by Moore’s Law and will tumble. It could show you the music video or movie, it could hold the music or video, it could communicate with any of your display and audio devices as well as being one itself. It is collectable, and could hold a permanent album cover image or slideshow of video clips or stills. It could be of any shape and size and still do the job. It ticks all the boxes for ownership, portability, robustness, media future-proofing. The battery could be built in or it could be powered inductively, or using solar.
It could support a range of business models too. You could buy albums, one per device, just like CDs, proudly keeping them on a nice rack or display shelf. Resell them at car boot sales or give them to friends. Or you could subscribe to a band or a music producer, and it could hold all of their stuff, and be immediately updated with any of their new releases. It could be locked to just their stuff and just you if that’s what you bought. The device could support lots of different kinds of license. Or you could buy stuff online and it would download to one you have as a replacement for today’s MP3 player. So it could hold one track, an album, a group, an entire collection, or be the front end device of a streaming service. Devices like this could support many business models. It meets the requirements of the music industry and the customer, doesn’t need lots of energy for cloud based storage, improves the potential quality of offering for everyone. This is the future of music media and probably video.
Of course you can do some of this with an app on a pad too. But having a dedicated device solves a lot of the problems we are used to that are associated with doing that.