Continuing its push into digital media, Microsoft has announced the availability of a new product to enable pay-per-view video and audio broadcasts on the Web.
Microsoft's Digital Broadcast Manager allows ecommerce sites to convert audio and video into marketable products like streamed video events, music download files or music previews. A site could, for example, charge visitors to view a concert or offer a music download that would expire after 30 or 60 days.
In many ways, Microsoft's new Digital Broadcast Manager replicates capability already available on the Internet. RealNetworks, for example, has built a business on providing servers and software that allows content-owners to stream audio and video over the Internet for a fee. But Microsoft says their new software will make media e-commerce feasible for a host of new companies who want to create a database, track customers and manage content. It will also be compatible with the increasingly popular Windows Media Player.
"We see this as a key enabler for the industry to allow them to get going immediately," says Michael Aldridge, digital media product manager at Microsoft. "It's pushing digital media into the mainstream."
Microsoft developed the technology over several years with House of Blues and e-Media, Showtime Boxing's Web broadcaster. Both companies have been using the Digital Broadcast Manager over the last seven months to stream pay-per-view concerts like Woodstock.com and sporting events like boxing and professional wrestling matches.
"Demand for digital media e-commerce is exploding, and will be as commonplace as selling traditional goods -- such as books and CDs -- within the next few years," Dave Fester, director of marketing of the media division at Microsoft, said in a statement. The final release of Digital Broadcast Manager is scheduled for later this year.
On the streaming media front, Microsoft is locked in a heated battle to establish industry-wide standards for the delivery of media over the Internet. So far, it has been playing catch-up with Seattle-based RealNetworks. Both companies market extremely popular media players. RealNetworks' RealPlayer has been downloaded 96 million times. Microsoft's Windows Media Player has been downloaded 50 million times, but it has also been a part of the Windows operating system since 1991.
But Real was the first to offer pay-per-view functionality in late 1997 with its Real Server 5. To publicize that release, RealNetworks broadcast a pay-per-view Tori Amos benefit concert. Viewers were given access to the concert by using a credit card to make a donation to one of several sponsored charities.
"This is another example of Microsoft trying to keep up with the market leaders, but remaining several generations behind," says Rob Grady, product manager for RealNetworks. Grady notes that the seventh generation of the Real Server is on the market today.
But the growth of both products is stunted as long as the streaming capacity of the Web remains feeble. Most Internet connections are only capable of stilted, grainy and small video images - not the kind of entertainment most people are willing to pay for.