Will the Film Industry Face a New Napster?

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LAS VEGAS -- Film and video companies must accelerate adoption of digital media technologies or face a surge in online piracy like the music industry did, RealNetworks Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rob Glaser is warning.

"The rate of innovation [in the film and video industry] is not what is needed to avoid the Napsterization the music industry went through," Glaser said in a presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show here.

Napster was one of the first file-swapping applications that allowed users to easily find and download songs and other files on the Internet. The Napster service was shut down in a legal battle with the music industry. The name is used today for a legal online music service.

While online music services such as Apple Computer's ITunes and RealNetworks' Rhapsody have taken off in the past year, video services are lagging, Glaser said. The services that do exist, such as CinemaNow and MovieLink, aren't compelling enough, because the usage terms are too restrictive and the movies offered too old, Glaser said.

Setting Goals

Movies should be available online the same day DVDs are available in stores, Glaser said. "Right now they are [available] later. The Internet sits on its thumbs and says we will be there in a couple of months and maybe you'll like some old back and whites," he said.

If the online services were compelling and film companies didn't fear cannibalizing DVD sales, they could win the hearts of consumers and the film and video industry could avoid Napsterization, Glaser said.

Glaser set four challenges for his company and the digital media industry as a whole: getting the film and video industry off its feet; continuing to drive digital media into the mainstream; making it easier to deploy digital media services; and ensuring devices, music stores, and rights management systems interoperate.

Working Together

It's safe to say that the RealNetworks chief wouldn't publicly set goals if he didn't already have a way to meet those. RealNetworks' new RealPlayer 10, announced earlier this week, will help drive adoption of digital media and interoperability because it supports all major music file formats, rights systems and a host of devices, he said.

"Interoperability is a hard and complicated question," especially when it comes to devices, Glaser said. RealNetworks offers its Helix architecture, but not all device makers are adopting it. "A balkanization morass is growing," Glaser said.

However, RealNetworks will work to support the most popular devices. "Even though the IPod did not join the Helix community and Steve Jobs does not sound like he is going to do it, we're going to create a path that will bridge the communities," Glaser said. Steve Jobs is CEO of Apple, the maker of IPod music players.

Working on its goal to ease deployment of media services, RealNetworks has partnered with IBM to offer a product that will allow organizations to digitize, manage and secure their media content as well as distribute and sell use of that content, without having to create the technology infrastructure from the ground up.

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