Whenever a technology becomes a hit with consumers, it is never too long before that technology is embraced by corporations. Look at how PDAs and laptops forced businesses to rethink their IT strategy. The same is now happening with digital imaging. In fact, digital imaging is becoming the surprise hit of the IT industry, as positive publicity spreads by word of mouth. Resellers and distributors who deal with media players, digital cameras and content creators are enjoying a massive boom.
Norman Garland, managing director of distributor Pixels UK, said: “Digital video is becoming more and more accessible in all walks of life. Practically everyone seems to be creating videos and attaching them to emails. There will come a time when the skills they’re currently learning for fun can be used for more practical purposes at work.”
Garland is a veteran of the imaging sector, and previously built up Imagine Graphics during a period of explosive growth in the graphics industry. He has seen signs of a similar excitement stirring in the digital market.
“Displays have always been big in the retail and leisure industries,” he added. “But now digital media is being deployed. We sell a lot of solid state DVD players into the advertising and film industries.”
Using domestic machines for commercial purposes does not work, as many early users are discovering. Home user DVDs cannot cope with more than three hours usage a day. This means that pubs, clubs or museums will want to upgrade to something heavy duty, with no moving parts (like domestic machines have) and will consequently order, from their local supplier, a solid state digital imaging player. The good news is that resellers can enjoy a 25 per cent discount on the goods and, since competition is not too fierce, they can enjoy the full mark-up.
Garland reported that Pixel’s Media Whiz products, cheap digital media players, are flying off the shelves, mostly towards advertising agencies. Audiovisual resellers are doing good business with AdTech’s high definition systems too. There is even a fairly lucrative trade in selling content.
Now that everyone is a film maker, there is a booming demand for royalty-free content that can be used as establishing shots. For example, the “funeral warm-up man” film on youtube.com uses someone’s house as a make-do church. But if the film maker, EminNess, had bought a copy of ArtBeat, he could have acquired a more realistic clip of a church to use in his film. Users can buy a single package with all kinds of clips that might prove useful for a film – fire, smoke, panoramas, views of a car park, even shots of wildebeest majestically sweeping the plains of the Serengeti. Surely there is a gap in the market here for some enterprising digital imaging reseller? For example, you could create your own royalty free package that can be sold for use in creating corporate videos (they all say the same thing anyway). Why not give people the tools to cut and paste their own corporate video?
It is the explosion in creativity in the broadcast world that particularly excites Mike Leigh, vice-president of sales and marketing at Modelo, which makes set-top boxes for IP TV. These are boxes that sit between a TV and the internet, and allow TV programmes (that have been broadcast over the internet) to be played on the devices they were intended for: television sets.
“People make TV programmes that are designed, naturally enough, to run on a TV, but they’re often being viewed on PCs these days,” Leigh said. “Now you can get the choice and diversity of internet TV, along with the picture quality you’d expect from a television screen.”
Modelo has sold 700,000 set-top boxes already, and this is still a market sector very much in its infancy. Initial sales were mostly to tier two telcos, the primary attraction being to give them something different they can offer subscribers, now that phone connections and bandwidth are such a commodity. Several telcos are getting involved in this area and Modelo is already preparing to launch a new channel for these “internet TV in a box” products, selling the set top devices through ISPs. Even BT is getting in on the act.
Despite the domination by the big players, there is still room to manoeuvre in this market, if a reseller is prepared to tailor product offerings to what their client asks for, instead of telling them what to expect.
“IP TV is tending to be one strand of a wide range of services that telcos, such as BT with their massive portfolio of products, will offer,” Leigh said. “So if you’re buying IP TV as part of BT’s services wrap, you get a pre-ingested diet of channels.”
The problem with this, for many consumers, is that they want to pick and mix what channels they get. The old model of buying technology was to buy a box, with everything pre-configured, and you took what you were given. And more times than not, you were given exactly what the vendor decided you needed. Now, however, firms are learning to put together new bundles of service.
“These days people like to buy the equipment and feel confident enough to make their own choices about which products they want to get, which in this case means the internet TV channels they want access to,” Leigh said. “Who is to say it will benefit telcos to offer people bundles of services, when everyone wants to do their own thing?”
There are several internet TV channels in the pipeline and, as ever in a boom time, resellers will need to be quite specific about where they want to be to stay focused. Internet TV is going to address three specific audiences: specialist TV, ex-pats and enterprises.
We will skip over the ex-pat and the specialist TV sections, because no corporation will be ready to pay for these, even if the employees are all looking for ‘news digests from their home country’, or the latest updates on the Tour De France on ‘Cycling TV’ (a channel that has an astonishing 250,000 subscribers). These specialist stations may sound a bit too niche to be profitable but at £20 a subscription, Cycling TV is proving incredibly successful.
The enterprise version of internet TV promises to offer benefits such as training and continuing professional education (CPE). Busy lawyers and accountants, for example, may be able to get their mandatory hours of CPE in by viewing the lessons on a TV screen, rather viewing them on tape.
Is there really a market for this? Surely this is what video-streaming was supposed to deliver, and it is arguable that was a massively over-hyped technology. How many people ever watched their chief executive giving the weekly morale rousing speech on their PC? A decade ago, this is what all the analysts were predicting would happen with video streaming. That is when they weren’t promising that there would be a surge in skills training, as we all learned to squeeze in extra lessons by going online. Of course, that reality has failed to materialise. Then again, second time around and with better technology, intra-company broadcasting might succeed on internet TV. Maybe it is just a question of fine tuning things. TV was always a better medium for showing off on.
Ironically, just as TVs are proving their superiority to PCs in internet TV, the computer industry has developed a new standard that will bring about a massive change in imaging.
Universal 3D (U3D) is the visual and simulation graphics standard developed by Intel. It has been adopted by Adobe and built into its new 3D version of Acrobat.
Interactive 3D Graphics are predicted to dramatically improve any kind of design and development work, simply because they give engineers and designers a 3D image of the product to work from.
Damian Smith, managing vice-president for corporate management solutions at Hitachi Consulting, told CRN: “U3D and its support within mainstream software such as Adobe Acrobat will revolutionise product lifecycle management. It will take
3D modelling outside the traditional barriers imposed by proprietary computer-aided design/computer-assisted manufacturing [CAD/CAM].”
In other words, the technical limitations of 3D graphics have been overcome. Now these powerful tools can be shared, via the internet, between applications. There is the bandwidth and computing power to support this activity, which means there will be a boom in the usage of 3D. Everybody will be able to take part.
If you get the right skills in 3D Acrobat, the world will be your oyster, according to Subhas Patel, managing director of Harlequin Solutions, an Adobe training partner.
“It’s going to be the next big thing,” he claimed. “If you train in 3D Acrobat, you will be able to offer a service in which demand far outstrips supply, and we all know what effect that has on prices.”
As a training company, Harlequin is already aware of the capabilities of this package. Companies such as Harlequin are repurposing their 3D product designs to quickly and easily create powerful but cheap training tools based on interactive simulation.
Meanwhile, electronic owners manuals could provide 3D interactive guides for maintaining and repairing products throughout their lifecycle. Better still, there is plenty of scope for business in the world of e-commerce. Online catalogue customers, for example, could preview products by interacting with 3D models that were created in the product’s development.
So which industries will be crying out for 3D Adobe Acrobat skills?
Since the primary benefit of U3D is that it allows CAD/CAM drawings and animations to be shared, it follows that wherever CAD/CAM is deployed, there will be considerable demand for Adobe 3D skills.
So obviously the engineering and manufacturing sectors are targets. While the traditional CAD packages will still be in use to design a product, once the product is finalised the onus will be on changing it to an Adobe 3D format, since the 3D graphics will need to be made available in a number of areas and activities. These will include marketing, sales and channel management.
Smith said: “Consumer product makers are likely to adopt Adobe 3D pretty rapidly. Manufacturers that require consumer assembly or configuration, such as firms that make computer, home entertainment equipment and flat-packed furniture will gradually transition to 3D electronic format assembly instructions.”
It is the digital media software market that offers the best opportunities for the channel, claimed Stephen Mold, European director of Roxio, which publishes Easy Media Creator 9.
“Channel partners must educate customers,” Mold said. “Digital media software is still a relatively new concept to the average end-user, and resellers would need to have the capacity, whether online or in-store, to help customers understand the basics of what they can do with their digital media.”
Currently, when a consumer visits a store to buy digital imaging technologies, they tend to be sold a variety of individual components. For example, a store will sell a digital camera, with a light piece of imaging software, which will allow them to get started but does not necessarily provide them with all the tools to make the most of their digital media.
There is a prime opportunity for resellers to offer comprehensive packages that provide an all-in-one digital media centre. Most customers are discerning and would appreciate this, plus it benefits the channel.
Why not, for example, package a digital camera with the relevant digitalk imaging software, a capture card for digital video, a DVD burner and the relevant accessories? A package such as this would deliver a consumer-friendly solution that provides an opportunity for the reseller to create a long-term connection with the end-user.
Mold said: “I recommend resellers work with tried and tested brands in the digital media market, perhaps a combination of Adobe and Roxio, to ensure they are offering customers the best selection of universal applications.”
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