Microsoft's Take On Video

Online video undoubtedly plays a significant role in emerging media. Video is nothing new, but its use on a growing variety of devices (smartphones, tablet PCs, laptops etc.) has sky rocketed in the last few years. YouTube alone reaches upwards of 2 billion views per day, doubled from one year ago. Video is obviously here to stay, but it isn't a static format. With our ever-growing needs, it is constantly evolving to be clearer, simplified and easier for developers to work with.
I was recently given the opportunity to interview Peter Farfaras, Emerging Video Specialist for Microsoft. He spoke at SES Toronto last week and had the following to say about emerging media and Microsoft's role in the development of online video.
Q: Can you provide some insight on Silverlight vs HTML5? Adobe has had a lot of push back lately (Apple war) and HTML5 is being touted as the next major platform for video. What are your thoughts on how Silverlight compares here?
A (this first answer came from Senior Video Product Manager Matthew McKenzie):
Microsoft ships the world's most popular HTML client. Despite the HTML5 specification being a work in progress, we implemented several HTML5 features in our most recent browser. Microsoft has co-chaired the HTML5 working group in W3C since its inception, and we remain active participants. Our browser will continue to be the dominant HTML standards implementation for the foreseeable future.
Likewise, we continue to invest heavily in Silverlight development and deployment. There is no one-size-fits-all, perfect tool for every development job. HTML5 will be fantastic for some scenarios, while Silverlight will be great for others.
Q: Coverage being distributed via Silverlight? Are more developers using it now?
A: Yes, more and more developers are using Silverlight, and we have a DPE team dedicated to Silverlight evangelism. As for results from our collaboration with CTV for the Olympic video coverage, below are some impressive statistics worth noting provided by our DPE teams:

Q: Do you think large-scale production videos are going to be replaced by more web-ready compact video?
A: No, I don’t see large-scale production videos being entirely replaced by web-ready compact video. I do however see the changes or improvements being made to optimize the production of Video.
Definitions of video content types are always changing but the core question is around production and type.
There will be times when video production will either be less, the same or more complex to create than TV; but as I stated earlier, this will be dependent of the type/genre of content or event. We have millions (even billions) of examples of compact/low cost production—"handycam" or mobile video content—being created and uploaded to the web all of the time.
It really comes down to what environment the video viewer is in. Think of "a day in the life" scenario: do they want to watch premium long-form video content that has high production quality in the evening, short-form premium video on demand while they are at work or travelling, or low-res —UGC or viral video content—for a laugh. Context matters. We will still have large-scale production video, we’ll just have them optimized and create and distribute them more efficiently; that’s where the evolving world of video technology comes in. (Attached is a condensed version of our Context Matters by eMarketer.)
Q: Where do you see the video industry five years out?
A: Based on global statistics, Canada continues to maintain one of the highest levels of video usage as a percentage of population: currently 88%+ (according to comScore Video Metrix, April 2010).
I expect to see continued growth, especially if online video adoption, viewing, usage continues at its current trajectory.
It’s really exciting to think about how dynamic this environment will be. It’s always evolving and there are several forces at play, a few being:

  • Increased PVR/DVR adoption
  • More and more content shifting online (globally)
  • Viewers continuing to want a choice of how they can access either long-form or short-form content
  • What viewers can do with that content (stream, download, share, etc.)
  • Networks wanting to capitalize on a growing/shifting audience—to meet the ‘convenience factor’
  • Technology companies wanting to provide the vehicles for viewing this content (software, hardware)
  • ISPs/cable operators needing to scale accordingly to this demand and perhaps even change their revenue structures

The perception may be that video is still in its early days when you compare it to TV, but we have this perfect environment where users will continue to demand access to video content online, especially as more and more short-form and long-form TV moves online. Just take a look at the Vancouver Olympic stats referred to above, those are some unprecedented numbers. Video isn’t going away.
Q: What are some ways that Microsoft is planning to use video and stay ahead of the curve?
A: Video will continue to be a key pillar for Microsoft: delivering premium video content to our users via the most reliable and cutting edge technology. Our new MSN Video destination site improves on previous versions. The end-user experience is paramount, and the new player takes the UX to the next level.
Features like:

  • Dim the lights—cinematic experience—where users can dim the background of the site and content making the video player standout
  • HD content: Full-screen in HD content
  • 14 different sharing features and options
  • Unique URLs for each video
  • This is key for Video Search as the metadata is improved/more robust

What are your thoughts on the emerging role of video? What would you like to see companies like Microsoft introduce into the market?

Off the Couch, On the Couch: Consoles' Future

There're two trends in video-gaming I've noticed lately: First, a shift towards more peripherals and consoles taking over more functions of computers—a development confirmed by the latest E3. One of the first companies to successfully introduce accessory-enhanced games into the mainstream was Sony with its Singstar and Buzz franchises.

Then there was the final breakthrough: Guitar Hero, first just being bundled with a plastic guitar, later even with a drum set. This step was a huge risk: Bemani games were pretty much relegated to a niche existence in the West, no one knew if people were willing to spend significantly more on a game with a toy guitar, and the competition for scarce retail space was intense.

The risk, however, paid off: People loved the new interfaces, which allowed them to immerse themselves in the gaming experience deeper than before. Dreams of a rock star career were easier to pursue with a plastic axe than with a joypad.

Apart from appealing to people who never might have played video games before, another advantage is obvious: Games can be pirated, peripherals can't. You want to play your Pirate Bay Rock Band with a controller? Sure, bore yourself to death.

We had also better get used to the thought of these new interfaces. Kids these days often play their first games on the Wii. As this generation grows up, it won't understand why it can't control FPSs in a similar, active way. The couch will be deserted, that's for sure.

But then again, a second trend might keep people right there: Increasingly, consoles take over the functions of computers.

Think about the Xbox, for example; it was basically introduced because Microsoft wanted to carry the dominance it had in the office environment over into your living room, a space which at that stage was mostly in the hands of the PlayStation.

Soon you'll be able to access your Facebook profile with it, update your Twitter status and listen to These are very significant developments. Microsoft might have won, we just haven't realized it yet.

This Offworld piece makes some very good points:

"The announcement that I thought was missed was the opening of the Xbox Live Dashboard interface to the internet," [industry analyst Michael] Pachter told Gamasutra. "Later this year, Microsoft will allow members to access and to select music, to access Netflix and instantly watch films/TV shows, to access Facebook and interact with other friends, and to access Twitter and post/read tweets."

Pachter argues that the gaming media entirely missed the significance of this announcement, which puts the 360 firmly in the same territory as Apple's AppleTV, only with a library of awesome games. With so many 360s already installed around the world, MS have a good chance to become the default choice for web media on your TV.

The author adds:

If the 360 does start to support all these things (there's no confirmation as to whether Last.FM will be able to run in the background as a soundtrack to your games), it'll become the kind of gaming machine that I want to spend my time with for more reasons than just because it has some games that my PC doesn't.

It will become a device that has more of the networked infrastructure, and more of the media tweaks and toys that I take for granted as part of my desktop computer.

The thing is: This development does not only apply to stationary consoles: Just think of the iPhone and its growing success as a gaming device. People play on it because they always take it with them and it combines pretty much everything you can ask for: wifi, email, surfing the net, games, etc. Before my iPod Touch was stolen (donations welcome!), I totally neglected my DS, simply for the fact that the iPod combined all my entertainment needs.

The PSP is taking the same direction; its new incarnation, the PSP Go, will come with an app shop (albeit without a touch screen).

When thinking about these developments, keep in mind the falling price of the 360. As the Offworld piece points out:

Rather than having to release a new console, the 360 just gets cheaper, and makes more sense, to more people, because it does something that it didn't do before: Guitar Hero, Last.FM, Twitter, motion-tracking control... A spiralling feature list, a net that gets bigger and drags in more people.

The Xbox indeed develops back to its PC heritage and becomes increasingly flexible. It fulfils a PC's functions, but with the convenience of a console. Sony does have a lot of competition on their hands, and yet they don't seem to do much about it. In view of the PS3's impressive hardware architecture, it's difficult to say if they are able to lower its price, but that would be a first step in the right direction.

All this doesn't even take into account the effect of cloud computing. Maybe the 360 will be the last console you ever buy, because the rest will be done in the cloud. Not only would this apply to applications but also to gaming.

This demands the questions: Will one platform be obsolete one day? What will happen to the PC? Surely it won't disappear, but it will suffer. Eventually you might simply end up with another Microsoft product.

What do you think? Are consoles the future of computing?


More on Piracy

I wrote a post earlier today about Piracy and the Entertainment Industry without realizing that Microsoft had declared today Anti-Piracy day. What a delightful coincedence!

And since you're probably giving so much thought to piracy, why not check out an interview that Wired has with everyone's favorite pro-piracy dude Matt Mason?

From the Wired article:

“I’m convinced that Steve Jobs is currently working on a double-sided touchscreen laptop, which has a great screen density so you can hold it on its side and you can touch it and turn pages. When something like that comes along, then the e-book’s going to be a real threat. And I think the publishing industry is going to collectively crap its pants.”


Disclosure: Matt Mason's got a great last name, but we aren't related.

Is the Videogame Industry Recession Proof?

Will the US fall into a recession? Maybe. Will the videogame industry? Probably not, reports

According to The Wall Street Journal, "strong holiday sales of its Wii video game console and Nintendo DS portable game device helped Nintendo (OTC: NTDOY) nearly double its nine-month net profit and raise its sales forecasts for the third time this business year." In other words, there is no recession at Nintendo. Figures out of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT)'s device division would also indicate that there is no slowdown in video console sales. Nintendo raised its forecast for Wii unit sales for the year ending in March to 18.5 million from 17.5 million.

One of the questions Wall Street is asking is where the consumer will draw the line on purchases. Expensive products like cars are likely to get hurt. Fast food numbers seem to be fine. A video game console is a $200 to $500 purchase, with Nintendo's products being at the low end of that range.

One advantage video games have over other products in a downturn is that consumers can use them for hours a day, not unlike a TV. That puts the "cost per hour" of owning a video game products at pennies for avid users.

Does that make video games recession-proof? Probably.

So there you have it: Games are a safe bet in these uncertain times (thank you casual gamers!). What I would really like to know though is how the game business developed since the writer's strike started.


The Future Of Newspapers

You absolutely have to watch this video about Microsoft's Photosynth if you want to understand what Mark Evans is talking about when he says that will be the way we can browse through an online newspaper in much the same manner we do a paper newspaper. (watch the video before reading more!)

However, I think that Photosynth will be much more than that. I think that it will probably revolutionize the way we do any of our online work. Done correctly, ordinary websites wouldn't require any clicking in order to navigate them. Users would simply zoom in and out, and I'm sure that it would even be able to add fields. One corner of a giant 'image' could be a users inbox, while another could be Wikipedia. There is a lot of possibility here.

I realize that a Photosynth-style web is probably still a long way off (as most computers probably don't have the processing power or connection speeds necessary to make it work) but we all know how quickly technology is changing.

I'm probably going to be dreaming about some sort of Photosynth-Facebook super-mashup tonight...



So, I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed by the entire mesh event. I'm still reeling from all the great people I met and things I heard. It was also probably the busiest week of my life, and I'll try and recap it all. On Monday night, I had the good fortune to attend the Canadian New Media Awards at Toronto's Carlu. The awards themselves were mostly memorable due to the fact that I met the Pure Pwnage crew. If you don't know what they are about, check their site out and start watching. At 5 million views per episode, it has to be one of the most popular Canadian television shows of all time. The fact that it is done entirely by a couple of guys (and one girl) with a video camera and a website proves that their is a better business model for television than the traditional broadcast system. I also ran into Eli Singer at the awards, and had a good chat with him about, among other things, his Tongan domain name. Being new to Toronto (I moved into my apartment in March..can I still say I'm new?), I hadn't heard about CaseCamp before but look forward to checking it out.

On Tuesday, I attended the Third Tuesday meetup. (Disclosure: my company sponsored this event) The mesh guys (Mark Evans,Mathew Ingram, Michael McDerment, Rob Hyndman, and Stuart MacDonald) were the speakers of the evening, and have grown skilled at weaving the myth of their event's creation. I didn't have a chance to ask them about the ridiculous idea of using a lower-case 'm' for the mesh branding, but I did have a short conversation with Lionel Menchaca, Dell's blogger. He is a great guy to talk to, and his take on the story of why Dell started shipping Linux machines was new to me. As a Dell user, I promised him that I'd let him know which direction I went with my next laptop. Of course, it is always great to see the Thornley-Fallis headliners and Chris at these events. Joe Thornley has really done a great job of organizing Third Tuesdays, and like a James Brown for the digital age, he seems to be the hardest live-blogging man in PR business. Scotty Mac was also in attendance, soaking up all the Web 2.0/PR goodness that a little East Coaster can.

Tuesday and Wednesday were mesh (another disclosure: my company was also a mesh sponsor), the real deal. I haven't been to very many tech conferences, but I was very impressed with this one. Techcrunch's Michael Arrington was my favourite speaker of the day, and people other than me have made some great posts about what he had to say. I also had the good luck (whoa, name-drop alert) to sit next to Techdirt's Mike Masnick at dinner on Wednesday. He is every bit the intelligent man that I thought he would be, and I also enjoyed hearing him speak at a panel discussion on Thursday. (name-drop alert, part two) Rachel Sklar was also at the dinner, and she seemed (at the very least) vaguely interested in Espen's upcoming thesis.

While some of the actual talks, panel discussions, and workshops tended to blur together and might have been a bit more basic than many wished, I really enjoyed talking to people during the aptly-named 'mesh breaks.' One of the highlights for me was hearing the wonderful geek humour of Mark Relph and his Microsoft crew at lunch. Wikipedia's third (fourth?) most prolific editor and article author was also at the table that day, although I can't remember his name (but I'll never forget these stats: over 92,000 edits and more than 3,000 articles to his credit). Another highlight was Mark McKay's mesh video. He is one wacky dude, and I can't wait to see him again.

I also got to meet Aaron Brazell of B5 and Technosailor Really nice guy, and I would have liked to talk to him longer about Wordpress (damn, that CSS).

I'm sure that there is a lot that I'm forgetting about the conference. Like, how tall is Jim Buckmaster? Seriously, he asked me where the water bottles were and all I could see was this enormous expanse of purple shirt.

Well this post is getting a bit long, but before I end it I would like to thank Mark Evans, Mathew Ingram, Michael McDerment, Rob Hyndman, and Stuart MacDonald again for putting together something awesome. Hopefully, I'll be here next year for mesh08. Actually, I'd rather be living in Hawaii surfing, but mesh08 is a close second.

(also check this shit out: someone took a picture of me at the conference and posted it on Flickr)