Q&A: The Future of Digital Media

REDMOND, Wash., Mar. 14, 2000 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that RealNetworks has licensed the Windows Media Audio format, joining a long list of companies that have chosen to support Microsoft Windows Media. Windows Media is poised to become the industry’s universal format, compatible with leading digital music devices and digital media players. PressPass talked with Will Poole, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Media Division, about how a universally adopted digital music format benefits consumers and the music industry.

PressPass: Why does Microsoft license its Windows Media Format to companies like RealNetworks, AOL, Yahoo! and Liquid Audio?

Will Poole: Microsoft is focused on serving as an industry platform provider for digital audio, video and other Windows technologies. We license the Windows Media Format as a key feature of Windows. This provides an open standard for the recording industry to deliver digital music and other audio content to the broadest possible audience. Windows Media is recognized as an emerging
“must have”
format by companies such as Yahoo!, AOL, Liquid Audio, Sonic Foundry, Lycos and now RealNetworks.

PressPass: How do consumers benefit from widespread industry support for Windows Media?

Will Poole: As a format becomes universally adopted, consumers will be able to play their music any time, any place, and on any digital audio device. They’ll be able to quickly download music from the Internet, distribute it throughout the home and workplace, or take it on the road.

PressPass: How does a universally adopted format benefit content providers — for example, the music labels?

Will Poole: Music labels will no longer have to encode music in multiple formats or worry that tunes will be illegally duplicated. The digital rights protection built into the Windows Media Format allows content publishers to control the exchange of value for content they create, creating new opportunities for e-commerce and promotions. By extending this platform across all digital media players and audio devices, artists are ensured their music is available to the broadest audiences in a secure, high-quality audio playback format.

PressPass: Do companies pay Microsoft to license the Windows Media SDK?

Will Poole: No. The Windows Media software development kit (SDK) is available for free to Windows developers, and is available on the Web for download. Microsoft has licensed its SDKs this way for years to encourage innovation and competition in an open environment. Microsoft allows developers to easily integrate support for Windows Media Format into their own digital media players.

PressPass: How do companies like RealNetworks, AOL, Yahoo! and Liquid Audio benefit from licensing the Windows Media SDK?

Will Poole: It is becoming clear — even to our biggest competitors — that Windows Media is the industry’s format of choice, because it offers clear benefits to both consumers and content providers. Windows Media Format offers CD-quality digital sound in half the file size of competing formats, so consumers can store two hours of music instead of one on a portable music player. Windows Media also offers the only integrated digital rights management capabilities, safeguarding content from illegal distribution and piracy while encouraging the release of content from top artists in digital form. Supporting the Windows Media Format enables content providers of all types to reach the broadest audience.

PressPass: Isn’t MP3 already a universal digital audio format?

Will Poole: MP3 became a popular digital audio format among early adopters. However, technology has moved forward since the introduction of MP3 several years ago. In order to move digital media into the mainstream, new technology — Windows Media — was developed to address key limitations of MP3, such as the lack of digital rights management capabilities. Windows Media is a universal format that supports high-quality playback in half the file size of MP3 and e-commerce opportunities while protecting content from unauthorized distribution — combined capabilities unavailable from other digital media formats.

PressPass: Where do you see the digital music industry a year from now?

Will Poole: In a year, we’ll be a lot closer to our vision of digital music any time, any place, and on any device. In the same way that we saw the explosion of VCRs in mainstream American homes once the industry rallied around VHS, we’re seeing a similar explosion in digital music with a universally adopted format. We’ll see a lot more content being offered from consumers’ favorite artists in digital form, a big increase in the types of devices that play digital music and, as a result, a lot more consumers adopting digital media. Today, we’re at the beginning of the digital media revolution. Windows Media is at the center of that revolution.

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RealNetworks Licenses Windows Media

Today’s announcement adds to the widespread industry and consumer support for Windows Media, which is poised to become a universal format for digital media.