DRM problems are still preventing digital media markets from taking off, but recent news suggests that things may be about to change.
Two weeks ago I explained why media companies need to rethink their business models. This week I'm happy to report that at least one company has the same idea: Amazon announced that it would join Apple in offering DRM-free music. I'm excited to see where this will lead. DRM has many inherent problems, but the biggest problem is that it makes it hard for devices to talk to each other.
The moves by Apple and Amazon will make this less of an issue for music, but what about video? Despite the fact that hackers are defeating content-protection schemes as quickly as they arrive—or even before they arrive—providers of video content seem determined to keep their content locked down.
This is a huge mistake. Even with broadband services constantly on the rise, few of us have enough bandwidth to pirate high-def video or other valuable content. For that matter, the limitations of today's equipment can make it unappealing to access legal content over a network. I stopped by the local Apple store last weekend, and I was unimpressed by its Apple TV. It seemed to work well enough, but the picture quality was only so-so. If I wanted to watch a movie, I'd much rather get the DVD. (I'm even more skeptical of the Netgear box that lets you watch YouTube videos on your TV. Why in the world would anybody want to do this?)
In short, I hope the DRM-free music experiment is a big success so more media companies get rid of their pointlessly restrictive content protection. The infrastructure needed to distribute content within the home is falling into place—now we just need to make the content distributable.