According to a report just published by Ovum, revenues for interactive multimedia services to the home in Western Europe, the US and the Asia Pacific region will grow from $2,220 million this year to a staggering $73,257 million in 2006.
In its report, Interactive Multimedia Services to the Home: the Competitive Challenge, Ovum predicts the Internet has been something of a beta test for the technologies concerned. 'The explosive growth of the Internet is serving as a test bed for the development of interactive services,' says John Moroney, a senior consultant with the company and author of the report.
According to Moroney, interactive entertainment and information, along with shopping, banking, and advertising, are all set to flourish in the years to come. 'In an increasingly competitive market, no telco, broadcaster, cable TV company or service provider can afford to ignore the market for interactive services to domestic customers,' he claims.
Moroney notes that to stimulate market growth, there must be a critical mass of customers to motivate businesses to change their current practices.
He says service providers must deliver compelling content to attract those customers and help businesses see how communicating with them interactively can be economically viable.
The report advises that in order to compete, providers must deliver a package of basic entertainment, telephony, and interactive services, as well as keeping interactive multimedia services simple for the mass market. It also suggests that providers must partner with a variety of businesses with which they may have had a previous relationship to deliver an end-to-end service.
So where does this leave the reseller channel as far as handling multimedia products for the business customer base is concerned? While only the retail channel can really service the consumer/home market, there can be little doubt that a boom in the home multimedia arena will trigger a similar surge of interest on the business front.
Perhaps even better from a reseller's perspective is the fact that a booming home multimedia computer market will result in considerable economies of scale in hardware costs. At Comdex Fall earlier this month in Las Vegas, several vendors were climbing on board low-cost multimedia bandwagons, on the basis that hardware prices are set to take a tumble in the coming months.
One of the most interesting multimedia launches at Comdex was from Diamond Multimedia Systems, the firm that signed a major pan-European deal with Olivetti late last month to ship its modems with PCs supplied by the Italian electronics giant.
While several vendors were busy showing off their eight-speed CD-Rom drives, Diamond took the wraps off a $399 multimedia upgrade kit featuring a 12-speed CD-Rom drive. The package, which is also available to the UK dealer channel, includes nine software titles, speakers and a sound card.
According to Diamond's director of product marketing, Paul Nahi, the company was the first to market with an eight-speed multimedia kit late last year and the first to market with a four-speed kit back in the fourth quarter of 1994.'Now we are one of the first to get a 12-speed kit to market,' he says. The company sees a clear role for faster kits, which Nahi claims are excellent for installing software and running applications from a CD.
Interest in multimedia PC technology is also reaching fever pitch in Europe. Macromedia is hosting a three-day conference at the RAI conference centre in Amsterdam next month, which aims to appeal to users of digital art, multimedia and the Net.
The 1996 Macromedia European User Conference and Exhibition takes place from 4 to 6 December and will allow users to see Macromedia's Shockwave technology in action, along with Director 5, Authorware 3.5 and Freehand software. Delegates will also be able to check out Macromedia's new Java utilities.
Alongside the free exhibition, the three-day conference costs #480 to attend, although the company is offering 30 per cent discount to authorised Macromedia developers, Vars and training centres. Conference speakers include Bud Colligan, chairman of Macromedia, Clause Leglise of Intel, and Norm Meyrowitz, also of Macromedia.
According to Colligan, the European conference is being modelled on the US conference held earlier this year, and is a definitive event for anyone involved in multimedia and the Internet. 'Our promise to shock the world is a real one. With breakthrough technologies like Shockwave and Backstage, we have the unique ability to help users create more dynamic and interactive Web, multimedia and digital art communications than was ever thought possible,' he explains.
Macromedia says the show will allow PC users to understand much more about Macromedia's Shockwave technology. The exhibition is being billed as allowing users to exchange views and ideas with 'fellow creators', as well as radically 'redefining Web, print and multimedia communications'.
Further details can be found on Macromedia's Web site at www.macromedia.com
Things are also moving forward on the UK multimedia front. Last month saw Omnimedia, the multimedia company, being granted a patent for what it claimed was a ground-breaking technology.
Paul Hodgson, Omnimedia marcoms manager, explains that the patent relates to the company's Omniscape application, which is used to convert up-to-date information received over the Internet, intranet or Lan into a display style compatible with a user's existing data medium.
Patent number GB2293036 specifically covers the 'reformatting of data delivered to a computer, via communication links such as a phone line, Lan, radio link etc, possibly from a number of different sources, such that all delivered data is presented in a display style consistent with that of the user's storage medium'.
A good example of such an application would be a CD-Rom which has live links to the Internet, although Hodgson, stresses that the patent is not limited to this.
The process takes movies, text, graphics and even interactive hotspots from an external source, combines it with existing information, and reformats it so that the new information is formatted in the style of the existing information.
The patent includes a number of examples of applications, taken from some of Omnimedia's CD-Rom products. The CD-Rom applications contain information from a variety of sources, including the CD itself and the Internet, where text, graphics and hotspots are downloaded and presented in a format which is similar to the rest of the CD-Rom.
According to the company, most hybrid CD-Roms enable the user to download additional information which is manually added to a multimedia information product, but does not reformat it on the fly.
One means of designing a system which would conform with the patent would be to create a set of look-up tables to convert data types on the fly, but Omnimedia says the detail of such an implementation is dependent on the application and will be the basis for future products and partnerships.
Hodgson acknowledges the Omniscape technology is still very much in its early stages. 'Obviously we're hoping that the technology will be licensed to many different companies, and will be worth millions of dollars,' he says. 'What is happening, however, is that the imminent arrival of digital video disk on to the market is changing the way that people look at multimedia disks.'
According to Hodgson, Omnimedia developed the technology to provide hybrid CD-Rom capabilities for its titles and tools. It was used in the company's The Ultimate Video Jukebox, a compilation of interactive Mpeg videos on CD-Rom released in October last year. It also featured in Omnimedia's Sade Interactive, a reference music title released in November last year, and in Maestro Mpeg Interactive Toolkit, a multimedia development tool released last January.
Interestingly, Omnimedia has declared its intention not to enforce its intellectual property rights too strongly. It states: 'While the patent clearly conveys a high value of intellectual property to the owner, Omnimedia does not wish to impede the development of the interactive multimedia market. Rather, the company wishes to use the patent as an opportunity to develop partnerships throughout the interactive space, in order to develop the patent to its greatest potential.'
Hodgson says he expects to see several companies licensing the technology in the coming months. Further details can be found on Omnimedia's Web pages at www.omnicorp.com.
The arrival of multimedia in the computer market is more than a matter of simply selling graphics and sounds cards, as well as the obligatory memory upgrades, to business users of desktop PCs. Multimedia computing is starting to have an effect on business generally, as witnessed by a recent set of multimedia retailing trials undertaken by Barclays Bank and several other companies.
Electronic retailing through multimedia kiosks could soon become a common sight in the high street, following the successful completion of a series of trials by Anglo-Italian retailers, banks, and technology companies.
The consortium's two-year trial, led by Barclays Bank and partly funded by a $4 million grant from the EC, was completed at the end of September, with several of the partners saying they are planning future commercial applications of the kiosks.
Known as Oasis 2 (online automated shopping and information system) the project centred on the development of hardware and multimedia applications.
Multimedia kiosks were located in selected retail outlets in the UK and Italy, with locations chosen by four of the consortium partners, Barclays Bank, MFI, Car Shop, and San Paulo Bank.
Along with these, other partners in the project were Olivetti, which developed the computers and associated system hardware for the project; Tecnost Mael, which designed and manufactured the kiosks, as well as performing hardware and software integration of kiosk peripherals; and Studio Teos, which developed the software for San Paulo Bank.
According to Barclays, the trials revealed that customers are increasingly willing to use the kiosks to obtain further information, enter their personal details on forms, book appointments, and purchase goods or services online.
The consortium's partners are now planning to develop the kiosks for more extensive trials or for wider use.
A payment system for the kiosks has also been developed. This allows customers to purchase goods or services directly using a debit or credit card, or even to take out an online loan using a kiosk.
Paul Bold, project co-ordinator at Barclays, says the aim of the Oasis 2 project was to develop a new form of electronic shopping based on an interactive sales terminal. 'Close co-operation among partners in the project has enabled the consortium to develop a range of innovative interactive retail applications that have significantly improved overall customer service, while at the same time resulting in actual sales,' he says.
At the EC, Yves Rene de Cotret, multimedia system domain co-ordinator of the EC's DGIII operation, which authorised the funding for the project, said that Oasis 2 represents one of the most successful technology-based projects that the EC has funded to date. 'It has resulted in a user-friendly, time-saving device which customers, retailers and banks like,' he says.
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