Paris - MPEG pioneer Leonardo Chiariglione is launching a new international initiative aimed at breaking the digital media logjam.
Chiariglione, founder of the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), which brought digital compression technologies to consumers and the PC and communication industries, blamed technical, political, legal and economic differences for the logjam. With his new, nonprofit organization, the Digital Media Project, Chiariglione looks to "help the digital media revolution take hold."
In launching the initiative, Chiariglione left his job as vice president of multimedia for CSELT (Turin, Italy), the corporate research center of Telecom Italia Group.
Not everyone sees the need for yet another big cross-industry, cross-national project to move the digital media industry forward. "The world craves more near-term, actionable goals and agreements [rather] than another multinational 'travel club' whose only assured beneficiaries are travel agents and hoteliers," consultant Richard Doherty said in an apparent jibe at the sometimes-exotic meeting places of these global bodies.
Still, others insist, if anyone can succeed, it is Chiariglione. "Leonardo has an amazing ability to get people together in the same place at the same time," said Rob Koenen, president of the MPEG Industry Forum. Moreover, even among those who question Chiariglione's newest pet project, there's agreement on the problems engendered by the so-called digital media impasse.
Doherty, president of the Envisioneering Group (Seaford, N.Y.), for example, sees a windfall in the right solutions. "Envisioneering believes that more than double the revenue from digital distribution of media would be possible with one year of a realistic infrastructure," he said.
But "the impediments to that infrastructure," Doherty warned, "are more from legal mind-sets and players-RIAA, MPAA-and antiquated distribution rights contracts-meaning, slowpoke attorneys who have yet to implement clauses for 'caching' and 'streaming'-than anything else."
Koenen said "technology licensing issues" and "the lack of the interoperability of digital media" contribute to the digital media logjam. Without a universal framework for digital rights management, he said, "there is no interoperability. Easy publishing, or easy and transparent access to digital media content, remains a difficult issue."
For his part, Chiariglione said that while digital technologies may have launched huge and profitable industries such as information technology, ICs and digital communications, no one has so far found a way to profit from so-called "digital media."
A respected figure in the global engineering community, Chiariglione candidly expressed his disappointment and frustration over the lack of easy-to-access digitally distributed media content on the market, and the profitable business that might be derived from it. "In 1988 when I launched MPEG, the digital media business was not possible because there was no technology," he said. "Today we have the technology, but we still have no [profitable] business."
Chiariglione characterized a slew of cross-industry efforts launched since 1998, including the Open Platform Initiative for Multimedia Access, SDMI and MPEG-21, as "important but not enough. To remedy past deficiencies and speed up exploitation of new technology results we need a Digital Media Project," he said.
His group will begin by drafting a "Digital Media Manifesto" to establish a common framework for the project, Chiariglione said. Its goal is "to identify the issues and the work plan," a task he expects to see finished in a few months.
The group then hopes to come up with its first results within a year.
Doherty suggested that project participants should think "like a lawyer instead of a technologist. A digital media project needs authority . . . such as from [standards bodies like] ITU or NIST," he said, and not devolve into a forum to "just recognize the impasse."