Apple, Sun, Cisco et al to set streaming media standard

But so is Microsoft... But so is RealNetworks...


A bunch of famous companies and a not-so-famous one today unveiled the latest in a very long line of industry bodies to develop a set of open standards, in this case streaming live audio and video over the Net.

The companies, Apple, Sun, Cisco, Philips and... er... Kasenna, will become the first members of the Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA). Some 24 companies have already expressed their interest in joining, including SGI, Macrovision, nCube and Analog Devices.

Neither Microsoft nor RealNetworks are on the list. ISMA persuaded AOL CTO William Raduchel to give a positive message on the launch statement, but AOL doesn't appear to be a prospective partner either.

ISMA's mission is to develop a way of sending MPEG 4 compressed video, sound and associated data across IP networks. The organisation will begin hosting meetings to discuss how to achieve that goal next February.

In fact, the founder members appear to have got it pretty much sorted out - an initial specification has already been produced we understand - but consultation is key to consensus, and the founders clearly want to be seen to be involving their supporters.

Still, opportunities for greater involvement will come later - ISMA has granted itself quite a wide brief, including quality of service systems, digital rights management and billing (neat nods toward the Napster controversy and the emerging online media market), and "services the marketplace identifies as being critical elements to a complete end-to-end solution".

Of course, there are already solutions in place here, primarily from RealNetworks and Microsoft, and that's really what ISMA is about - it's a competitive move hiding behind a facade of open industry collaboration. Apple's interest here is getting more QuickTime out there - MPEG 4 essentially is QuickTime - and use it to sell Mac servers and desktops for the creation of MPEG 4 content. Sun, on the other hand, gets another open standards stick to beat Microsoft with. Cisco is primarily interested in new functionality that makes people want to buy more routers.

That said, there is a consumer advantage here - the creation of an online media standard ensures users don't need umpteen different player apps just to view content from different sources. Content providers too benefit, from the 'write once, play anywhere' approach to content creation such a standard would provide them.

The trouble is, these arguments apply to any standard, whether developed by consensus, like ISMA, or established through market domination, like RealAudio. Success will only come to ISMA if there's a real move among content providers to support it. Otherwise, it's just one solution among several, especially when the others roll-out MPEG 4-based solutions of their own. ®


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