A new age of video begins

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iTunes changed the music landscape around the world, even in places where people were unable to purchase music from the iTunes store because their address was not within an authorised country. Before iTunes, people only had two choices for music; buy it at a music store, or download it from an unauthorised source on the internet. Once iTunes proved to the world that people would legally buy digitised (and medium rip quality at that) music if given the chance, other companies began working out how they could join the bandwagon and divert some of that new money into their own bank accounts.

iTunes allowed people to buy music from a corporately condoned online source. It allowed people to easily search for and sample music before buying it, and in the process allowed consumers to expand their music horizons, discovering new musicians and new genres of music, including those not affiliated with the big record labels. Most significantly perhaps, iTunes has also had a permanent affect on the music business itself.

The strongest controller of any market is the distributor. Distributors are dictators. They are the filters and the bottle necks of any market. If the distributor doesn't make a product available, you won't be able to buy it. If the distributor doesn't advertise a product, you probably won't know about it. For the most part, the big record companies were the distributors of the music we heard and bought. As such, they controlled who became successful musicians, and were even powerful enough to be able to turn singers with no music sense into successful money-making objects. They controlled whose work was marketed, whose work was broadcast over the radio how often, and since air time is a limited commodity, they also indirectly restricted non-affiliated musicians from getting their work heard.

Aspiring musicians for many years looked to the big record labels as the key and singular hope to becoming world renown musicians, to becoming stars and for many, to becoming rich. All of this has now changed; significantly. No longer do musicians need to sort out the big record companies. They can join a growing number of internet sites whose sole purpose is to expose the public to as many musicians and music as possible. Smaller record companies are popping up everywhere except that they're no longer record companies per se; i.e., they no longer need to make records, just record and sell the music directly over the internet without the extraneous manufacturing costs of printing physical product. Consequently, there are now more musicians getting their work heard than ever before.

Since musicians no longer need the big record companies to succeed, distribution is no longer their biggest obstacle. The biggest obstacle for today's musicians has become one of exposure and marketing. If people haven't heard your work, why will they buy it?

Just a few minutes ago, I stated that people can search for and listen to any music they like on the iTunes store. It therefore probably sounds contradictory to first say that and then say that musicians will continue to have problems with exposure and marketing but it's true. The underlying problem is numbers.

When the iTunes store first began, there were only a few hundred musicians available from the store. This meant that people browsing the store had a fair chance of finding and sampling an unknown musician's work. Today though, the store probably has thousands of musicians. That being the case, new musicians may never get noticed.

Marketing is extremely important and despite the power of the internet, traditional advertising methods are still essential today. For most musicians not signed up with the big record labels, radio, TV, outdoor, magazine, newspaper and other print media advertisements will be unaffordable. Consequently, the music market is still skewed in favour of the big record labels and will continue to be so for the near future. On the positive side though, the internet is a very big place, big enough that the big record labels will never control all of its available marketing space. Independent musicians will therefore still have a chance to get their music heard, if they can find the right places on the internet to exhibit their work.

Just as the music world has changed forever, the year 2006 will perhaps witness similar changes in the world of television and video. During January, you will hear multiple announcements relating to the selling and renting of video and television over the internet. At least four big companies have already announced IPTV plans including Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Intel. Additionally, many expect Apple Computer to announce their own new IPTV products early this week when Steve Jobs gives the keynote at this year's MacWorld. IPTV is about to explode.

There's just one downside. For the moment, those of us in smaller countries don't have access to the iTunes store. We probably won't have access to the upcoming video stores either. Unfortunately, the big companies are still trying to control what and where music and video is available. They're setting up virtual boundaries to protect their traditional distribution partners, and for the moment at least, those of us in smaller countries will consequently continue to be second class citizens in the world of online music and video.

Hopefully, the content producers will soon begin to skip the middle man and lose their traditional distribution partners, instead distributing their content directly to the consumer over the internet. Without the middle man, they'll no longer have a reason to use virtual boundaries and we the consumer will finally step into a world where we have almost complete freedom to watch what we like, when we like, no matter where that contents comes from. No longer will we in Hong Kong be forced to watch the first season of LOST while people in the U.S.A. are watching the second season.

Much sooner than previously anticipated, the television and video markets will soon begin to change in a big way, and as long as manufacturers don't begin implanting pin cameras into their television sets and video monitors (i.e., 1984's "big brother"), I'll accept those changes gladly.

iTunes began the revolution in how we get our music, and iTunes was also one of major factors in making IPTV a reality, but can you guess the true precursor of internet music and internet video, the real reason the big corporations are scrambling to make music and video content available over the internet? Two letters: BT. Think about it.