Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Now Music Tries to Line Up Their Cherries

On hearing that the standard body MPEG (Motion Pictures Experts Group)will meet this month to consider making a new digital audio format called MT9 an international standard we thought we would bring out our trusted one armed banit slot machine once again. The same one armed bandit slot machine that we wrote about with respect to ebook formats earlier this month could be equally applied to MT9. The rows may change but the effective goal of lining up the three of a kind isn’t. This about lining up; production companies (EMI, Sony BMG, Universal, Warner); retailers (Apple, 3music, WalMart, HMV, etc); device manufacturers (Apple, Nokia, Sony, Samsung etc), and finally creating consumer demand.

The new standard was developed by Audizen, a South Korean company Audizen, and is also known as Music 2.0. MT9 splits an audio file into six channels, enabling users to raise or lower the volume on the different channels similar to a sound engineer on a mixing board. Some claim that the new format will replace MP3 as the standard for all digital music.

However as we have raised several times introducing new and replacing old formats is not as easy as getting them adopted by a standards body. In fact the history of standards is littered with standards that failed not because they were not suitable, or even better than those being used, but because all the dots were not joined up. In 2001 mp3PRO was introduced and licenced through Thompson. It provided advanced compression, halving traditional MP3 file size and also offering improved sound quality. It failed to join the dots and was withdrawn. Thompson are still trying to get traction with their MP3 Surround but again it looks doomed.

So what dots are needed to be joined for MT9 to replace MP3. First all the producers would have to convert their existing files, not a mean or inexpensive task. The the device manufacturers, such as Apple, Sony etc would have to introduce or change their models to support the new files. This would need to be done inline with the current 12 month life expectancy of MP3 player and as more devices adopt MP3 such as mobile phones, MP3 becomes ubiquitous and device costs drop, this challenge becomes harder.

It is easy to envisage the PC being a key element which could effect the conversion and use the features. However this poses some interesting rights questions and also would still need the mobile device change. Remixing is one thing but converting formats and enhancing copyrighted may be another. It is easy to see this re introducing the DRM battles that appear to being won today by MP3.

The interesting situation is that the music industry may need to find an answer in order to capture further digital sales. Today’s DRM free MP3 files offer the consumer little added value over the CD and their ripping their own files.

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