The Consumer Electronics Show was held in Las Vegas this week and it brought an absolute flurry of news. No doubt anyone who tried to keep up with it all feels like they just went 10 rounds with Mike Tyson circa 1988. Jabs from Microsoft, body blows from Yahoo and uppercuts from Google. Wait – what did I just say? Isn’t it funny how Yahoo and Google are now the main attractions at Consumer Electronics Shows? Ah, seems only two years ago when Google was so adamant about their focus on search, claiming things like (paraphrasing) “we’ll never be a portal” or “we’ll never clog our page with advertising.” Well, young Sally has gone and grown up now, hasn’t she? The serve-and-volley of this week (and the past year, really) finds Google getting into the business of selling videos now, along with their recent decision to promote AOL on Google pages, along with releasing an IM client, a sidebar, ride finders, blimps, roller skates, candy bars and super balls. All well and good. Really.
Where it all goes wrong in my eyes (and this is a shot at ’em all) is the whole issue of Digital Rights Management, otherwise known as basic copy protection. Apple’s recent version of ITunes rolled out an utterly moronic DRM system which restricts the playing of music purchased on ITunes just about everywhere now except for the IPod. This is really tragic. You simply cannot get rid of the DRM on these songs. Fred Wilson, a VC in New York, says it well enough. The whole thing just sucks for consumers.
Seems everyone wants to have their own version of DRM now. With Google’s recent video announcement, they too are in the DRM game and it honestly feels like the DRM thing might even be all about ego at this point. If you buy video from Google, you’re restricted on playing most of it – you must watch it on the Google Video Player. What happened to the whole “free and open” world they touted? It flies in the face of what Google is all about, really. Sad.
I’m not calling out a specific company here, I’m calling out everyone. Can we just adopt one single format for music and video so people (like me) don’t have to go crazy about what can be played where and how many times? At this point, the only thing keeping my music in the Apple format anymore is the fact that I cannot share music in the MP3 format on Grouper, one of my favorite internet inventions of all time. For those of us who are truly music geeks, having the ability to share music taken away from us is like a stick in the eye. Sharing music with others is what makes music dorks like me tick. Ask my poor friend Anthony, who a couple of years ago made the mistake of telling me he liked roots rock. A week later he had 9 CD’s from me, filled with various artists in the genre. Why can’t we do that online? Why can’t I put together a playlist and just make it available to him? Sharing music has been done for 30 years for christ sake. They’re taking that away from us. Hell, even your average music fan gets a kick out of sharing music with friends.
Can’t we have a system where we can buy music from ITunes and play it on any device we want? It is ludicrous that I cannot listen to an Apple file on the Windows Media Player (and vice versa). It’s not really all that much to ask, and Apple is, unbelieveably enough, falling right back into the same tarpits they fell into during the 1980’s, when they walled up their computer garden. As if that wasn’t lesson enough, the Google’s and Microsoft’s of the world are doing the exact same thing 20 years later! Eventually all this headspinning is going to lead to massive consumer backlash. Customers do not like being confused.
And Ask Jeeves? Oh yeah, we’re focused on search. Still.