Monday, March 16, 1998 at 4:26:11 PM Pacific

Making Money with Scalable Content

By Marc Canter, marc@venuemedia.com.

The term Scalability is one of those words that technologists have used for many years to refer to 'growing' or 'adding onto' a system. If a system (hardware, software, or integrated combination of both) wasn't 'Scalable' then the owner of the system would have to re-architect the system - or perhaps throw it out and start over from scratch.

The term Scalability first became big in the 1970's as IBM tried to convince customers that if they committed to their 'Scalable line of computers' - that they would simply have to add-on to the existing line - rather than have to go out and buy a completely different computer - for their increasingly advanced computer needs.

This concept also became popular in the 1980's with large software systems, such as databases or accounting packages. Customers were told (by companies like Oracle and Sybase) that their software needs could be 'scaled' to their hardware and that all future improved performance or capacity needs - would be 'scaled up.'

So here I was in 1991 sitting there watching the world stumble and bumble it's way through the 'multimedia' era of CD ROMs and I'm thinking to myself 'What's wrong with this picture?"

Why do so many people not understand the long term implications and possibilities of multimedia? How come all of the CD ROM titles are so slow, boring and not compelling?

Well it didn't take much research to find out the answer: technology was dictating to creative people what they could do - and subsequently technology was driving the CD ROM business - not creativity.

This is because the limits (at the time) of CD ROM systems were 150k per second data access, 8 bit graphics and 4M of RAM with a 386 processor!

So I came up with the idea of Scalable Content. It is a doctrine which says "design your content that can take advantage of current playback systems, but also ALWAYS keep in mind where we are going - what will be possible in the future." This way interactive content can 'scale itself' to whatever particular features and functionality are available at the time - but NOT design itself into a corner which cannot be expanded upon later.

This is what happened to Microsoft. Over 80% of Microsoft's CD ROM titles were canceled because they could not 'scale themselves' to the world wide web. But then what happens when broadband comes along? Do they cancel MSN as well? What about all their web development today? Is it thrown out when yet another generation of new technology comes along?

Our MediaBand project had a cyberspace in it - with just 6 rooms, but we originally designed it to expand to 20 rooms. We had a single player CD ROM product , but we also developed a multi-player version of one of the 'songs'. We had everything in 8 bit graphics, but we also saved the original 24 bit graphics. Our video was reduced to a 300M Cinepak compression 1/45 screen size, but we also have the original 1.3G JPEG version.

These are a few examples of what I mean by Scalable Content.

The Mediaband project was conceived of and developed without being driven by the limitations of the current day (1992-94) technology. We tried for three years to offer our 'scalable interactive music video' to the various Interactive TV test sites - but no one understood what we were offering. "We're not interested in CD ROM today - we're looking for Interactive TV applications" they'd say. "But it's scalable" I'd say.

"No we aren't interested in interactive content - that's for games or educational software - we do video on demand" they'd say. "But you can have interactivity and full screen video - at the same time!" I'd say.

"But we can't afford to develop custom tools for our proprietary platform - so we must suffer with little or no interactive software!" - they'd say. "Gee" I'd say, ever heard of a Macinotsh or PC?"

"We think we have a winning formula" they'd say.

"But you cannot have a new industry without lots of cool, interactive software!" I'd say.

And so Interactive TV failed in the early 1990's.

This is why I'm focusing on deploying into private broadband networks today - as it is the only way to learn about, grow into and evolve Scalable Content TODAY - while still developing web sites and CD ROMs. Hotels, theme restaurants, shopping malls and sports stadiums are the perfect place for us to implement our Scalable Content tools and technology.

This third form of Interactive Content - 'broadband interactive content' - may actually make it possible for large numbers of content developers to amortize their investments across multimedia media forms. By combining the potential sales and viewership of CD ROMs, web sites and broadband versions of their 'products' - small content developers will be able to find decent advertising, sponsorships and partners to make a profit.

But without an installed base of broadband systems, there will never be Interactive TV, and broadband content will not be possible, and thereby there will never be a profitable 'Interactive Content business.'

So to summarize - Scalable Content is a concept that allows interactive content developers to design their content so that it can be implemented today - with the current limitations that the web and CD ROM give us - but also allow developers to fully amortize their investments by being able to take their web sites or CD ROM projects - and 'scale' them to the future broadband systems - which will become available over the next five years.

This page was last built on 3/17/98; 9:16:27 AM by Dave Winer. dave@scripting.com