Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bill Gates & I Agree -- His Keynote About the Power & Future of IP Communications & Video

Bill Gates recently (on May 16th) gave the keynote address at his annual CEO Summit -- and, interestingly, he placed the power and empowering nature of, and expansive opportunity created by, IP communications and related software solutions front and center, where I certainly agree they ought to be. Why? See some of the highlights of his 60 minute address below:

  • where do PCs stop, and how far do phones go? Is there a gap there in the “middle”? In Gates' words, “I tend to believe that the phone will move up, and the PC will move down” (and there won’t be any “special device” category)
  • notable advances of technology: (1) the chip set (ever more powerful); (2) new smaller form factors/hardware; and (3) broadband connectivity (in developed countries, well over 50% -- US is ranked 15th) – all changing patterns of use for consumers and business
  • the way people work is changing because of technology (as an example, collaboration)
  • in this brave new world of work, you can work from home, from the road – and the need for trips is reduced by using the technology in the right way
  • he then discusses three "Workstyles" in the workplace enabled by technology:
  • first -- Digital Workstyle "Basics" – what everyone does today (all of the typical PC-based uses)
  • second -- Digital Workstyle "Empowered" – what a number of companies are doing today to increase efficiencies and empowerment -- online video training; collaborative screen sharing (reducing trips); business information on mobile phones (email); human resource matters (over 80% of MSFT’s training is now done online); metric information (live sales information – “diving into data”); online surveys, and
  • third --Digital Workstyle "Advanced" - only 20% of companies use today, but this is where the world is going and is the great opportunity – VoIP and Unified Communications will replace PBX; digitized meetings with video conferencing front and center; rich models for forecasting; tablet computing; video channel for community involvement – companies can create their own “TV channels”)
  • In communications, there will be no PBX at all – all will be software driven -- something with which we completely agree at SightSpeed -- the virtual PBX opportunity is vast indeed
  • “The PC will become the phone, and the phone the PC” – it will be a soft solution
  • high quality video is essential for true power -- again, something with which we wholeheartedly agree
  • with respect to media/content distribution, the internet has democratized distribution opportunities – even small groups can have “shows”
  • the internet and mobility is changing “media” – revolutionizing media in all three phases -- creation, distribution and consumption
  • IPTV is powerful because there are no channel limitations and there is interactivity -- interactivity will infect both the online and offline worlds (again something with which we agree at SightSpeed, as we are helping media companies add strategically important interactivity to offline television programming today)
  • Advertising is changing – ads are moving to be more “embedded”

Finally, when Gates looks into his crystal ball, what does he see? Certainly, he sees no slow down in innovation ... but, then again, who does? He also underscores that the digital media revolution is just getting underway.

To this, again, I wholeheartedly agree -- we are just in the early innings of the digital media revolution.

See? Bill Gates and I agree on lots of things ... (but he commands a slightly larger audience than I do ...)

Amazon Strips Off DRM In an Attempt to Take a Big Bite Out of Apple

At long last -- after literally years of anticipation -- Amazon is finally planning to enter the digital music store fray in a big way. Amazon has always underscored that it would not be "just another" online music store -- rather, they would only enter the game when they found a revolutionary "hook." And, they feel they have that "hook" in selling only unrestricted songs -- i.e., songs that have been stripped of any and all DRM (MP3s, that is) and that can be copied as many times as wanted and transferred to any and all portable devices.

This is big news. Why? Well, Amazon certainly isn't the first online music store who has taken this path -- eMusic has been doing this for a long time already. But, Amazon, of course, is an entirely different animal from eMusic. Amazon is a behemoth. According to today's Los Angeles Times, Amazon had 39.4 million visitors to its site in April alone (whereas iTunes has 28.4 million). Amazon already is the #4 music retailer of music in the U.S. (selling CDs, etc.), whereas iTunes is the #5 U.S. retailer of music. And, don't forget, Amazon can make recommendations to its millions of users -- something that Amazon is well known for.

At least at this point, Amazon plans to launch its new music service with content from over 12,000 record labels, but virtually all of these are "indies" and not the majors. EMI is the only major record label at this point signed up to deliver its tracks stripped of any DRM.

And, there's the rub. For consumers, that means most of the top hits will not be available initially from Amazon -- there will be significant gaps in Amazon's catalog. This will lead to frustrations on the part of many who will stick with Apple until Amazon convinces the other major labels to play ball.

That ultimately will happen ... and, given Amazon's pure size and influence, they are the rare type of company that can hasten the decision-making of the other majors, particularly in light of the continuing decline in music sales world-wide.