When catching up with Maxine. a friend who is still in the conference business, she told me the tale of Nokia’s opportunity to impress some people at a multinational consumer products company.

She was working on a conference for the senior media buyers of this company who had gathered from all over the world to discuss the future of media. Between them these people controlled budgets of over €1.5bn. They talked about how social networks, interactive TV, internet search will shake up all they do when advertising their many brands to consumers all over the world. As media buyers they were repositioning themselves as internal consultants to the brand managers. This was seen as being especially useful in managing their relationships with their many ad agencies worldwide.

Instead of the usual teambuilding activity at the end, it was based around an element of the future media – what was called ‘user generated content’ earlier this year. The attendees were divided into groups and each team was given a new Nokia 95 to shoot and edit the kind of video that could be uploaded to YouTube.

If Nokia knew that their phone was at the centre of this new media education project, would they be excited? This would position the N95 as ‘the’ media phone for some very influential people. There are three possibilities: 1. It would be good news for Nokia, 2. It wouldn’t matter one way or another or 3. They’d be worried that their phone wasn’t up to the task and that their product would look bad. There’s no way of knowing. In a way I hope it is 3, because knowing you’ve got a problem is half the battle.

You can guess how enjoyable the teams found the editing process. Maxine was pressed into service to limit the problems people had with the software. They found the user interface confusing at first and irritating once they understood how limited it was. Maxine says they ended up laughing at it.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve made a point of not following the mobile phone business. I only got myself a phone when I went freelance, I would have not got one otherwise. Phones were quite irritating back in 2001, but they seem to have go even worse in the intervening years. More and more features have been added, making the phones more difficult to use and less reliable. Or so it seems from the sidelines.

The first phone I got that wasn’t rubbish was an iPhone. The camera isn’t any good. You can’t (officially) record video with it. You certainly can’t edit video on it. You can’t copy and paste text or run more than one program at a time. I’m sure there are many phones with many more features than the iPhone has. The difference is that the phone isn’t a pain to use.

Features are less important than implementation. Over the last few years many companies created putative ‘iPod killer’ products. None of them beat Apple. They went for extra features at cheaper prices. That didn’t work. I hope Apple’s phone competitors got that message.

The phone industry had years to make phones that were any good. It happened to be Apple that came along to shake them all up. As well as having advanced software on millions of computers to manage the phone (iTunes), Apple also seems to have avoided the silly politics of the phone industry. Some people say that it doesn’t make economic sense for carriers to sign up with Apple, but it makes sense for Apple to get into deals with carriers that need them more then they need the carriers.

I hope that someone comes along to give Apple a bit of competition. They’ll need a tighter, simpler link with people’s technology (many people don’t like to run iTunes on their Windows PC) and a way of getting the best possible services to a large number of people without any restrictions from the carriers. I’m looking forward to it!

Over the last decade Google has been top of the heap through two technologies: its page-ranking search technology and the ability to place relevant advertising right next to the content on pages all over the web. The patent awarded yesterday might hand a similar technology to Apple: the ability to insert relevant advertising into all other forms of media at the point of playback.

If Apple or someone else comes up with a better search algorithm to select the adverts that appear during podcasts, movies and radio shows, Google might face some serious competition.

In fact many people might welcome the intrusion of advertising into digital media – if it means that they get that media for free.

We have to pay for our media one way or another: movie tickets, DVDs, official downloads, TV licenses and Pay TV are obvious payment points. Advertising, PR and sponsorship are less obvious.

One day we’ll be able to live by our preferences – we’ll be able to pay for our media directly and avoid messages from corporations, governments and individuals. On the other hand, we might want to have other people pay for our media:

An imaginary ‘media payment preferences’ control.

It seems as if Apple have been granted a patent that will bring this customisation a little closer. It is in the nature of patents that they are framed to cover as many possible future inventions as possible. They sometimes need to hide their true nature:

1. A method for presenting media by a media playback device, the method comprising: receiving a playback request to play a media group, the media group including a plurality of media items; determining whether auxiliary media is also to be played back; playing back media items from the media group; and playing the auxiliary media if the determining data determined that the auxiliary media is also to be played back.

It may be that patent 612029 granted to Apple today patents the ability to incorporate advertising into media content on playback. This means that every time you listen to a piece of music, a podcast, watch TV show or movie, a different advertisement appears:

In one implementation, presentation of a media group can involve not only presentation of media items of the media group but also presentation of auxiliary media. Another aspect pertains to how and when auxiliary media data is to be presented (e.g., played) by an electronic device. Another aspect pertains to updating or refreshing auxiliary media data. Still another aspect pertains to restricting presentation of primary media by an electronic device unless auxiliary data is also presented.

(my emphasis)

The patent gives examples of ‘a media group’ as any of the content that can be played on an iPod. It implies that a variable amount of content is automatically stored on a device and a method for choosing which media is played as ‘auxiliary media’ before, during or after playing a media group:

the method further comprises:storing a plurality of auxiliary media items on the media playback device; and determining one or more of the auxiliary media items that are to be played by the playing of the auxiliary media.

Here is where advertising is mentioned:

20. A method as recited in claim 1, wherein the media items are selected from the group consisting of: songs, audiobooks, podcasts, and videos.

21. A method as recited in claim 1, wherein the auxiliary media is advertising content.

In one example, the auxiliary media data can pertain to advertising. Advertising information can pertain to specific products, services, shows or events. When advertising is able to be refreshed or updated, improved advertising results can be achieved.

A functional flow diagram showing \'Present Playback Denied\' message\'
A functional flow diagram from the patent showing a ‘Present Playback Denied’ message if the secondary media (advertising) playback is disabled.

In one embodiment, since presentation of auxiliary data can be ensured, the cost to the user for an electronic device can be lowered. For example, the ability for advertisements or news to generate revenue can be used to offset the cost for the electronic device. For example, the presentation of auxiliary data can be used to subsidize the cost for the electronic device.

Different aspects, embodiments or implementations of the invention may yield one or more of the following advantages. One advantage is that a media playback device can present not only media items but also auxiliary media. The auxiliary data can be automatically provided and integrated (e.g., interspersed) with playback of media items. The auxiliary media can be media such as advertisements or news. For example, advertisements can be audio or video (i.e., multimedia) commercials or promotional segments, and news can pertain to national news headlines, sports highlights, international news, local news, etc. Another advantage is that auxiliary data can be automatically delivered to a media playback device so as to remain current and effective. Still another advantage is that the manner by which auxiliary media is interjected in playback of media can be controllable, such as by: user selections, user preferences, user actions, media item content providers, auxiliary media content providers, online media store, or media playback device manufacturers. Yet still another advantage is that a media playback device can require playback of auxiliary media in order to playback media items.

In a patent of over 10,000 words, the letters ‘advert’ are only used 14 times, but I think this is a major part of this patent.

This means that advertising-supported media will have the option to incorporate different advertising each time that it is played on a device (iPod, iPhone, TV, etc.). The advertising will be streamed automatically if a wireless connection is available. Previous advertising will be stored on the device so that it can be played if there is no connection to the internet.

Keeping the ads fresh
A functional flow diagram from the patent showing how secondary media data can be updated automatically.

The example I usually give is when we use media content to support our day-to-day conversations. If I mention a piece of music, it is very handy to have my iPod with me – I can use it to play back the specific track I’m talking about. I’d like to do that with TV shows and movies.

Imagine if someone I’m chatting with refers to a specific scene in an episode of Friends. It would be great to support that part of the conversation by viewing that scene. Using a 1TB iPod, I could hold almost any piece of music I could think of. However it will take a while before every movie or TV show I can think of will be storable on a single device.

Soon all media will available to us wirelessly. We’ll be able to pick any nearby surface and stream any media to it. How will we pay for this? It depends on the media. If you are a fan, you could buy the right to watch or listen to the media for the rest of your life (the equivalent of buying a DVD). On the other hand, if you want to see that media a single time, you probably won’t mind a short advertising message playing for a few seconds before or during the film or TV show (the equivalent of commercial TV).

Maybe advertising will be a lot less irritating when we have the option to pay for it not to be shown to us. I wonder if this sort of thing should be patented. It seems a little obvious…

The BBC currently provide a a commentary track for the current edition of Doctor Who. Imagine if these were available for new movies.

A recent patent filing by Apple proposes public very local networks for iPhones and iPod Touches.

The idea is that shops, public buildings and restaurants set up location-specific applications that appear on iPhones when customers wander into the area of their wireless networks. Restaurants could provide custom menus (for those with food intolerances or on restricted diets), museums and art galleries could provide extra information. Shops could provide customer-specific offers.

If this works, why not provide commentary tracks for moviegoers? If you’ve see the film before, yet want to go and see it with friends, you can turn up and download an alternate soundtrack. You are more likely to see the film a second time in a short period of time. The cinemas sell more tickets.

You could even have alternate language soundtracks or an audio description track for the visually impaired. Imagine if the audio playing software on your iPhone could be triggered by a wireless signal to sync with the film when it starts (or even whenever the person arrives to watch the film).

The software could also ask permission to deny incoming texts and telephone calls until the film is over!

For you editors who go on location with two Macs – a backup and a main, I’ve discovered an interesting piece of software. It uses networking software that lets you use the screen of your backup computer as a second screen for your main computer. As it uses the network, I suggest that you use the backup machine to display browser windows – if there is a slight delay in displaying that sort of content, it is not a big deal. You should be able to drag clips between the screens if need be.

A G5 iMac using an old G4 iMac as an external screen.

Check out ScreenRecycler.

You can see a movie of the application in action at on this page.

You can even use a PC as a second monitor if you have one hanging around.

Apple have followed Avid in dropping out of NAB this year. Some see this as a sign that trade shows are becoming less important. The return on investment isn’t good enough. Maybe Apple has all the mindshare it needs from now on.

This reminds me of when I beta tested Macromedia Director for the Mac and PC back in the mid-nineties. Every new weeks we’d get a large envelope full of floppy discs. We would stress-test the scripting and animation features. I would attempt to get the user interface to break. It wasn’t hard. We got to know the software engineers quite well by email. We were shocked when the news came that the testing was over. Given the amount of bugs we knew about, we thought that there were many months to go before the software was ready. It turned out that the marketing department had picked a launch date and they wanted to stick to it.

Maybe Apple and Avid no longer want to have their schedules set by trade fairs. NAB is too soon for Final Cut Studio 3, it’s too late for a single user interface combined version of Avid’s various editors.

Maybe from now on we’ll hear about new products when they’re ready for us to use instead of at the next trade fair.

Apple have announced a new version of Final Cut Express. It features the Final Cut open format timeline. You can mix DV, HDV and AVCHD on the same timeline. It’s the application for all those disappointed by the lack of fine control in iMovie ’08.

$199 for a piece of software that most people will see has a majority of the features of Avid Xpress Pro. Looks like Apple is doing all it can to create a critical mass of people who are comfortable with the Final Cut user interface. My definition of critical mass in this case is the point at which people start setting up post-production consultancies that support medium and large productions using Apple software.

I think Avid need to reduce the price of the next version of Xpress Pro to $199 with no extra bits of software. To get upgrade money from current users of Xpress Pro, they need to bundle equivalent applications that match the ones in Final Cut Studio – to make Avid Xpress Studio. They also need to make sure that all the apps have a 21st century user interface that is consistent across the suite.

My one word to Avid right now: Express!

Instead of waiting for Apple and post production shows, we sometimes get little Final Cut Studio surprise gifts. The incremental improvements of features and user interface.

The new version of Final Cut Pro has some shortcuts I’ve been looking forward to:

Final Cut Pro 6.0.2 includes three commands for playhead-centered zooming and navigation in the Timeline:

  • Zoom In on Playhead in Timeline: Keeps the Timeline playhead centered while zooming in (regardless of the selection in the Timeline).
  • Zoom Out on Playhead in Timeline: Keeps the Timeline playhead centered while zooming out (regardless of the selection in the Timeline).
  • Scroll to Playhead: Horizontally scrolls the Timeline so that the playhead is centered in the window.

These commands can be mapped to keyboard shortcuts using the Keyboard Layout window (choose Tools > Keyboard Layout > Customize).

It seems as if Final Cut, Motion and other parts of Studio are now comfortable with 50 frames per second sequences and content.

All I need to do is to wait for a week or so for other people to install the update to see if it is safe to use…

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