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技术

别指望电视升级了

John Patrick Pullen 2012年11月05日

目前业界在视频格式、播放器、传输协议和内容保护技术等方面都没有统一的标准;同时,亚马逊、苹果、谷歌和微软等行业巨头都各自为战,希望自家的技术能成为在线视频的标准,结果导致市场严重碎片化。除非出现统一的生态系统,降低搜索节目的难度,电视的收视体验不会大幅提高。

    宠物保姆肯定都是技术达人。以我请的宠物保姆为例。她平均每周有五个晚上在别人家留宿,在陌生人的家庭娱乐中心里导航,看别人的电视,或是浏览挑选海量的线上内容。仅在我家客厅,就有6款设备。要是影音接收器没能接收到遥控器的信号怎么办?她可千万别在我的谷歌电视上按错了键!

    过去,我们只需要交代一句:“遥控器在这儿。”现在,我们会说“我的TiVo、Netflix还有Xfinity在这儿。希望你一切顺利。”苹果公司(Apple)将推出电视一说根本没有事实根据,但真正的苹果电视终将面世的说法引得人们议论纷纷,这只能说明消费者们万分渴望能有一款使用简单的流媒体设备。他们什么时候才能如愿以偿?网络媒体制造商们(包括内容制作商和机顶盒制造商)纷纷表示,短期内没戏。

    丹尼尔•雷柏是咨询公司Frost & Sullivan数字媒体部首席分析师兼Streamingmedia.com执行副总裁。他说:“目前业界在视频格式、比特率、长宽比、播放器、传输协议和内容保护技术等方面都没有统一的标准。”按照雷柏的说法,亚马逊(Amazon)、苹果、谷歌(Google)和微软(Microsoft)等行业大佬都希望自家的技术能成为在线视频的标准,都不愿兼容并包别人的技术。这就像当年的Betamax(索尼支持的录像机格式——译注)与VHS(JVC所支持的录像机格式——译注)之争,各种各样梯形和菱形的录像带涌入市场,一决高下。雷柏称:“在线视频市场只会不断碎片化,随着时间推移,情况只可能更糟。”

    最后的结果是:内容制作商不会将节目发布到所有设备;他们会精心挑选,以使节目获得最好的收视率,而不是设备越多越好。雷柏称,将一部节目发布到许多设备上往往意味着大量的格式转换工作,可能需要10到15种不同的视频格式。如果一家媒体公司的节目数有10,000个,那么其最终面向上百万用户发布的流媒体数量可能会超过10万个。雷柏质问道:“怎么提取、存储、管理、追踪、营销、保护和分发这些视频呢?这是视频提供商将要面对的大难题——它事关整个生态系统。这是耗资最大的,也是最复杂的部分。”

    FremantleMedia是一家位于伦敦的电视剧制作公司,代表作包括《英国偶像》(The X Factor)和《购物街》(The Price Is Right)等。它在全球40多个国家播放了超过300集电视剧。当然,FremantleMedia也把自己的节目放到了网上。该公司从2008年开始在iTunes上发布电视节目《美国偶像》(American Idol),时间为电视台正式播放后第二天。

    不过,假如你现在想在线观看Fremantle的电视剧《梅林传奇》(Merlin),那么你要做好准备,面对大量的无用功搜索。打开谷歌搜索“在线观看梅林传奇”,可以得到966万个结果,不过前面6个根本不是可播放的视频。第7个是Hulu,好歹能看了,不过只有5季节目中的两季。位列第20个的Netflix上有3季节目,虽然其网页名恰恰是“在线观看梅林传奇”。 Xfinity有最早的两季节目,是第22个搜索结果。iTunes的节目数最多,拥有4季,不过它甚至没能挤进谷歌搜索结果的前200名。【必应(Bing)的搜索也让人非常失望,这次是Netflix排在了100名开外。】

    Boxeec创始人阿夫纳•罗兰表示,虽然熟悉在线视频的用户知道去Hulu寻找最新的电视节目、去Netflix搜索前几季的节目、去iTunes看最新电影。但“仍存在很多不同平台,导致用户疲于奔命”。现实情况是绝大部分用户并不了解Hulu这样的网站,其节目存在和DVD发布窗口类似的时间间隔(为什么现在还要关注这些东西?)“所以我们现在还不完美,”罗兰承认。离完美可差远了。不过,随着原创在线节目和电视剧之间的差异越来越模糊,消费者们都希望能有一个实现统一管理的生态系统。

    Pet sitters must be some of the tech-savviest people around. Take mine, for example. She spends, on average, five nights a week overnighting away from home, navigating a stranger's entertainment center, watching someone else's television, or flipping through a myriad of online content options. In my living room alone there's easily a half-dozen tech pitfalls to fall into. What if the AV receiver misses the signal from the remote? Heaven forbid she bump the wrong button on my Google TV!

    Once upon a time, it was "Here's the remote." Now it is "Here is my TiVo, Netflix (NFLX), and Xfinity -- I hope it works out for you." If the chatter surrounding the mythical, eventual release of the true Apple TV (AAPL) is any indicator, consumers are dying for a bit of simplicity with their streaming video options. When will they get it? Not any time soon, says a chorus of online media makers, ranging from content creators to set-top box makers.

    "There's no agreed upon standard format, bit-rate, codec, aspect ratio, player, protocol, or content protection technology," explains Daniel Rayburn, principal analyst for digital media at Frost & Sullivan and the executive vice president at Streamingmedia.com. According to Rayburn, because industry players like Amazon (AMZN), Apple, Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) all want their technologies to be the standard, no one is working together to bring cohesion to the online video world. It's like Betamax versus VHS all over again, only with a dozen more types of trapezoidal and rhombus-shaped cassettes vying for supremacy. "It's only going to continue fragmentation in the market," says Rayburn, "and it's only going to get worse over time."

    As a result, content creators aren't uploading their episodes everywhere; they're cherry-picking devices to get in front of the best -- not most -- eyeballs possible. Getting one piece of content onto a bunch of devices would mean it has to be transcoded between 10 or 15 different ways just to reach them all, says Rayburn. Multiplying that times the 10,000 pieces of content a media company would be streaming could mean more than 100,000 files, serving million of viewers. "How do you ingest, store, manage, track, monetize, protect, and distribute video?" asks Rayburn. "That's the big problem that content owners are having -- it's the ecosystem. It's the most expensive part; it's the most complex part."

    For example, London-based FremantleMedia, the producer of television content ranging from The X Factor to The Price Is Right, airs more than 300 shows across at least 40 countries, and is no stranger to placing television content online, either. In 2008, the company began releasing episodes of American Idol on iTunes the day after the show aired on television.

    But today, if you want to watch one of Fremantle's dramas, Merlin, online be prepared to embark on a voyage of non-discovery. Searching Google for "watch Merlin online" returns 9.66 million results, the first six of which aren't even viewable episodes. The seventh, Hulu, offers only two of the current five seasons. Netflix, which has three seasons, is the 20th result, despite the fact that its page's title is "Watch Merlin Online." Xfinity streams the first two seasons, and is the 22nd result. iTunes, meanwhile, boasts the most (four) seasons for viewing -- but didn't even crack the top 200 Google-served results. (Bing's results were similarly disappointing, only with Netflix finishing well out of the top 100.)

    According to Boxee founder Avner Ronan, while experienced web viewers know to hit Hulu for a show's recent episode, Netflix to catch up on previous seasons, and iTunes for a new movie, "that still remains, in the grand scheme of things, an inconsistent experience," he says. The reality is that most consumers are not aware of the networks carried by Hulu, which shows those networks produce, or what the DVD release window looks like (or why that even matters these days). "So, we're not perfect yet," says Ronan. Not perfect by a long-shot. As the line between original online content and television shows continues to blur, it's easy to see consumers want an ecosystem that's clear to navigate.

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