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On the Road

Microsoft and Creative Labs, a manufacturer of portable video and audio devices, are rolling out the Portable Media Center (PMC). It retails for $500 but provides the chance to store and view up to 80 hours of video content (or 5,000 songs or a mix of the two). PMC should do for portable video what iPod and MP3 players did for audio. Frank Barbieri, Microsoft portable media group product manager, discussed what the new player means to content owners, distributors and viewers.

Portable audio players have been gaining in popularity over the past year. What makes portable video players as compelling?

Apple's Steve Jobs [dismissed] video usage in the past, saying it wasn't the right scenario. We think it is. When we look at the way people are treating video today, we see parallels to the way it was treated in the late '90s. They're digitizing more, and there is a tremendous proliferation of content on cable. TV programs and networks have more powerful brand associations. It makes people want to take that video-viewing experience with them.

How easy is it to get content onto the device?

We try to make it as easy as possible with sync software on the desktop that works with Windows Media Player 10. It has audio- and video-sync capability that automatically measures what video can be played back. Then it looks for video on the PC hard drive to download.

Have any content owners signed up to reach the devices?

Yes. There's CinemaNow, which has more than 200 movies, and Major League Baseball, which is making games, condensed games, and bloopers and highlights available. Any TV content that has been captured on the hard drive using a PC TV tuner card can be placed on it, too.

How long would it take to get an hour of content on the PMC?

If it's already in the right format on the hard drive, it will sync down in less than two minutes.

Content owners and broadcasters get nervous when they hear that because it could impact ratings. Is this a friend or foe?

Any disruptive technology is met with concern, but it often enhances the business. People love television. If you can get them more ways to enjoy it, someone will make money. Monetizing time-shifting with subscription models or ad models to extend the revenue stream to portability is very interesting.

Everyone understands that time-shifting is happening on things like TiVo. What this does is make time-shifting portable. It opens new revenue opportunities. The question is, how do they create that revenue? MLB has done that with its game coverage, getting money from people who missed the original broadcast. The business models are slow to start, but they'll grow as people begin using the devices.

Who is this service marketed to?

The commuter who takes the train or bus and the business traveler. It's great not having to watch the in-flight movie. Instead, you can watch your favorite TV programs or some movies.