The Wild West of Digital Formats

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The Wild West of Digital Formats

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.

I work in the music business. It's an industry that exhausts the weak and challenges the strong. We are in the wild, wild west out here and everyday, there's a shoot out at the OK coral. Though I'm accustomed to living in this rough and tumble world, a lot more than tenacity is required to survive. To really succeed in today's music business, you better get your geek on.

On the technologically advanced superhighway, staying ahead of the curve is critical. It's also a massive undertaking. New developments are announced daily. Record labels, who have cut their staffs to a fraction of what they once were, have been thrust into an entirely different business. Today's leaders in music not only need to understand the inner workings of developing an artist's career, but they also must have an ever expanding knowledge base about the future of where the online world is going.

Focus and timing are essential. Right now, the most important issue facing the business is digital-rights management. In that realm, one of the main concerns is the consumer's quest for access. The question of how to make your music multi-platform plagues the record business. Consumers are demanding multiple-use mobile devices. They don't necessarily want to carry their music separately from their cell phones. The goal is to seamlessly get your music to move from iPod to cell phone, from portable game device to DVD player so that it can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere.

To that end, the record business has helped create a standards organization called Coral to try and resolve the problems created with multiple formats. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that Apple, the biggest mobile music delivery company with 20 million iPods sold, will shift their business policy. Music files on iPods operate on a closed system. They are not automatically sharable with other devices. I imagine it's to maintain the particularly unique Apple experience. But with integrated mobile music and cell phone devices about to flood the market, Apple needs to be in the game.

In comparison, Microsoft offers file sharing open to many cell phone manufacturers, allowing them to add features to their own mobile devices. This will put Microsoft Windows media files on most of the integrated cell phone devices that will be released in the next year.

With the cell phone market currently at 159 million, this has great, untapped potential. Apple is about to launch their own cell phone with Motorola. Naturally, everyone is curious. Even Windows based music lovers are dying to see what Apple will come up with next. This is a company that does the extraordinary.

So the race is on and, as always, it should be interesting.

Stay tuned.

This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat on KCRW.