Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Media Convergence and Electronic Barnacles

By Dennis D. McDonald

Cisco has announced plans to buy Scientific Atlanta, and Microsoft has announced an agreement with the cable TV industry to include digital cable card support in the next version of Windows. So what, you say?

It’s all related to “convergence” where a Brave New World is heralded by the unification of the Internet and cable based home entertainment. That means more choice, more quality, more service, more innovation, and just plain more quality of life, right?

Maybe. I’d love, for example, to go to TitanTV on the Web, click on one of my favorites (say, Top Ten Bombers on The Military Channel) and have the show displayed on my PC or on whatever display device I want to send it to.

Something tells me, though, that it Ain’t Gonna Happen. Or, if convergence does happen, it’s going to be so complicated and encrusted with the electronic barnacles of copy protection, DRM, encryption, and mile-long EULAS that only the very rich, technically advanced, and legally savvy  will be able to afford it.

Or, we will end up with Extreme Balkanization of home media networks, with different parts of the U.S. being dominated by different intermingled media conglomerates that have the practical impact of bidding up the prices for alternative sources of content. As alliances among content owners and distributor networks evolve, are broken,and reform, the “consumer” will be left holding the bag and will seek “alternate sources” via those parts of the Web and Spectrum that are still free and unregulated.

But there is hope.  Ironically, China’s economy may have the ability to influence worldwide standards in a way that drives how Convergence happens in the rest of the world. I know, the Chinese government imposes its own form of censorship over Internet content, and I fervently hope that this will fail. But China also has the ability to impose technical, broadcast, and interconnection standards over a rapidly growing consumer economy, and this growth will spill over to the West as Chinese convergence technology and its lower costs and high quality are channeled into the Western economy by Walmart and others.

This is another irony — the same technologies that the Chinese government employs to control its own information economy may actually end up benefiting us in the West. But that’s capitalism in action, right?

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