Standards Standards Standards

10 12 2007

When I first started doing consulting in the music field the one thing that I discovered was that the only standard was that there was no standard.

And that was before HD-DVD and Blu-Ray started duking it out.

One hopeful sign (though not really, and I’ll tell you why in a moment) is the adoption of the H.264 compression standard for video (sometimes known as AVC).  This is an MPEG video compression that has been around since mid-2003 and has become a standard of sorts, ever since its adoption by Apple for the iPod video.

It’s easy to see why.  Despite its small file size, the pictures it presents are pretty damned good, with some great gradations of tone and color and a suspiciously good lack of motion artifacts.

There’s only one small problem, and this is one that I didn’t know about until I heard about it on the podcast This Week In Media.  In order to get widespread acceptance of H.264, the group that started it, agreed to allow content creators to use it for free until 2010.  That’s for free.  As in “no money need exchange hands.”

And, in case you missed it, that deal ends in 2010.

What this means is that every podcast or iTunes download that uses H.264 will have to start paying a royalty of some undetermined amount in a little over two years.  I have no idea how much that will add to the media creators’ costs, but you can bet that this cost will need to be made up in some way.  For Apple… they might finally have to charge a bit more for their downloads.  For podcasters, they might need to… well… start charging.  Or get more ads.  Or stop creating.

I’m not saying that all media should be free.  Lord know, that would certainly put a crimp in my lifestyle.  But in a world where the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are stopping charging people for access to their content, it worries me that the costs of creating media is going to go up.

Tell me I’m being paranoid.

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