I just returned from my first trip to the XGames. I went at theinvitation of my friends at ESPN. In addition to being one of the best sporting events I have ever attended, I was able to go behind the scenes to see the production crew and systems in action. I will tell you – while we all know that ESPN is the clearly the place for sports – what you may not know is how much they are also a technology leader and how much those capabilities provide for a differentiated customer experience.

I won’t go into any detail about all the innovative things going on (the ESPN folks may want to keep those to themselves) but I just want to highlight one key thing. In the entire tour of the event and the facilities I did not find or see a single tape, cassette, or piece of removable media. Not only was everything digital, it was all effectively created, produced, and distributed within a single digital information infrastructure.

If you have been in this industry for any length of time, you have been through at least one “false start” in terms of Digital Rich Media. Back in 1990, I remember hearing that by 1992 we were all going to “Digital Video on Demand” in the home. Of course, it never happened. The marketing hype continued, and consequently, a kind of “Chicken Little” philosophy has developed around the Digital Rich Media market.

Well, my prediction is that we all better be prepared for the sky to fall because the all-digital rich media market is truly upon us.

Yes, I know that much of what we see on TV today is “digital.” Some TV and movies are being shot and produced digitally as well. Let’s not forget to mention the amount of “digital” content on sites like YouTube. So, let me explain what I mean when I say thatrich media goes digital.”

Up to this point, the development and production of rich media has been an amalgamation of analog and digital processes with many of the digital processes using custom HW to provide a given set of functionality. Transformations, from creation to editing, to review to production and archival were largely what I call mechanical processes. A person would take a tape (or maybe a disk) from one place to the next or one machine to the next.

The future is the true convergence of IT and Digital Rich Media in a way that the most cost effective (and existing) IT systems infrastructures can be used for the end-to-end production and distribution of Rich Media Content. It is not just about making Digital Movies or TV broadcasts; it is about leveraging the power and cost savings potential of standard IT infrastructure to transform the market. This is possible, in large part, because the rapid capacity and performance improvements in IT systems are not reaching the threshold of capability that will yield the necessary performance and reliability for Rich Media.

The merging of commercial IT with Rich Media will bring about a whole new set of capabilities for consumers and economic potential for producers. First and foremost, the basic economics will be transformed with the use of IT systems. Additionally, process and procedures will become more streamlined and more automated. Distribution will become more efficient and flexible. Personalization (and therefore monetization) will improve exponentially.

This will all happen with video rich media with the security and rights management equal or greater than what is available with the present media-based (e.g. DVD) methodologies.

You can see this starting to happen today in so many places. Our kids are not watching TV on the TV anymore (they watch it on their laptop or phone). Video rentals are delivered to our iPhone or Tivo. We are watching more and more niche content directly on the web. This goes on and on.

So, I believe that the next revolution for Rich Media will not involve any media at all! From creation to editing, to distribution and viewing, our content will never touch a DVD, removable disk, or tape.

Mark…

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