A Downloadable World Awaits Online - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

8/2/06

A Downloadable World Awaits Online

Prepare to say goodbye to your cluttered shelves full of DVDs, CDs and video games.

With the success of Apple's iTunes music store and with digital download sites increasingly offering Web surfers games, movies and TV shows online and on demand, a world without any physical media may be just over the horizon.

"It's clearly something that's gaining in popularity, and we're seeing more services come online all the time," said Ross Rubin, an analyst for the NPD Group, which provides manufacturers and retailers with consumer information and trends.

"Apple alone has sold over a billion songs and 35 million shows through iTunes, and they're attracting more content all the time."

While it seems every week we're seeing another TV or movie studio announce the availability of its content online, are consumers really taking to digital media distribution? Or is it just a passing fad?

What's Old Is New Again

Distributing media without forcing consumers to further litter their homes isn't a wholly new concept.

People have enjoyed broadcast and cable TV, public and now satellite radio without the constraints of physical media for a long time. It was a little file-sharing Web site named Napster, though, started by a college student, that showed consumers that they could have what they wanted when they wanted it.

"The 'game changer' was on the music side," said Stuart Snyder, senior vice president and general manager of GameTap, a subscription-based video game service.

"With Napster, you had a young audience ferociously trading songs - doing it illegally - and basically it built an acceptance for digital downloading."

From Napster's humble beginnings came Apple, which took the idea of distributing entertainment content online to the next level with the introduction of iTunes.

Thank Your Computer

At the center of all of this change is the personal computer, which Snyder said had facilitated the move to digital distribution by becoming more than just a business machine.

"If you think about the computer right now - if you look at lifestyle - kids and adults use their computers now more than ever before," Snyder said. "And broadband products and distribution are making that computer more of an entertainment center than ever before."


Snyder offered his GameTap service as evidence.

For $9.95 a month, subscribers get access to the service's complete library of about 600 games, videos and more.

While analysts and industry insiders try to play the guessing game as to when sites like GameTap will replace traditional brick-and-mortar establishments as the primary venue to acquire media, Snyder said it's all about the consumer.

"The consumer moved into VHS. The consumer moved into DVDs. The consumer moved from eight tracks to cassettes and you know, you see that evolution," he said. "I think you're going to continue to see evolution. You're going to see people migrate into digital, and it's going to be faster and faster."

Snyder said that companies dipping their feet into the digital distribution pool weren't necessarily in competition with retail stores.

"A lot of people go into this space and assume that one wins over the other," he said. "We're not out to replace retail. We're actually working with publishers to keep their retail models strong."

It's important, Snyder said, to give consumers as many options as possible. With those options come a degree of uncertainty.

"You never place bets on what consumers are going to decide," he said.

That mentality makes sense to Ross Rubin, who isn't convinced that digital media is a sure bet.

"Nowadays the good thing about physical media is that it will play," he said. "Assuming the standard is widespread - it will play in whatever device accommodates the physical media."

With digital media, Rubin said, it may require a bit of knowledge and some hoop jumping to make it as accessible as tangible media.

Whether there's a winner in the new media market or just new competitors, Rubin said, consumers are being offered the kind of choice that spurs innovation and experimentation.


Source: ABC News
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