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Bill Gates Points Towards 'Anything On-Demand' Future

2005-11-12: Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect of Microsoft, has predicted that television will move towards an almost entirely personalized model in the coming years.

Gates was speaking at Engage 2005 the first Internet Advertising Bureau UK conference in London, England recently. Given the nature of the conference, the various speakers focused on the challenges and opportunities for advertisers in the changing online environment, but Bill Gates remarks are of interest from the point of view of the overall future of personalized television and media.

Bill Gates said he saw the debate between online and offline advertising as obsolete, because soon all media channels will be powered by the internet. "TV will be very different than it is today. Yes, there'll be some popular shows. But if you want to watch your kid's high school soccer game, that's available on your TV set." he said. He also gave the example of someone being able to to watch a lecture that took place in a university.

He suggested that viewers would be able to personalize everything from news coverage to football. Microsoft's vision for the next few years is that all media will soon be delivered by broadband, and viewed on high-definition screens.

Bill Gates comments at the IAB conference mirror statements which he made in an email to senior Microsoft staff (which was leaked to and published by Dave Winer). The email set out a future vision for Microsoft as a provider of 'online services'. In part of the email, Gates said: "The broad and rich foundation of the internet will unleash a "services wave" of applications and experiences available instantly over the internet to millions of users. Advertising has emerged as a powerful new means by which to directly and indirectly fund the creation and delivery of software and services along with subscriptions and license fees." (From a consumer aspect, it is the 'experiences' element of this statement that is reflective of the personalized online content. The wider definition of 'Services' refers not just to online consumer content, but also on-demand software applications for businesses.)

A second leaked email, from Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Ray Ozzie, referred to three key tenets that are driving change in the computing landscape. One of these is "The demand for compelling, integrated user experiences that 'just work'". He notes that: "Cell phones have become ubiquitous. There are a myriad of handheld devices. Set-top boxes, PVRs and game consoles are changing what and how we watch television. Photos, music and voice communications are all rapidly going digital and being driven by software." And then he comes to what this website considers the most critical issue in the progress towards an 'anything on-demand' future: platform inter-operability and common delivery standards.

Ray Ozzie's email says "For all the success of individual technologies, the array of technology in a person's life can be daunting. Increasingly, individuals choose products and services that are highly-personalized, focused on the end-to-end experience delivered by that technology. Products must deliver a seamless experience, one in which all the technology in your life 'just works' and can work together, on your behalf, under your control. This means designs centered on an intentional fusion of internet-based services with software, and sometimes even hardware, to deliver meaningful experiences and solutions with a level of seamless design and use that couldn't be achieved without such a holistic approach."

For 'Anything on-demand' to work, there should be an absense of format or technology barriers. A football match highlights programme should be available to view on a television, computer, PDA or cellphone without the user having to worry about compatibility issues. Bill Gates referred to computers becoming almost invisible, integrated into everything that we do. This is sometimes called 'ubiqutous computing'. It doesn't necessarily refer to the physical minimisation of computer equipment, as the creation of interoperability standards that allow seamless communication between all types of devices.

Ray Ozzie identifies one of the opportunities for Microsoft as 'Seamless Entertainment' - "Enabling you to create, store, organize, present, consume and interact with media of all kinds; accessing, caching and viewing it anywhere you like regardless of where the media resides. Gaming experiences that bring two or two million people together across PCs, devices and the web."

Putting aside for the moment whether Microsoft's potential domination of this marketplace is a good or bad thing, one question comes to mind: Is something a standard because industry people agree is should be, or because everybody uses it? If Microsoft can succeed in developing media delivery systems that work anywhere, and consumers embrace devices that use them, their systems may become a de-facto standard by sheer weight of numbers.

Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie would see Microsoft at the centre of this revolution in 'on-demand' media content. Others in the internet community would consider that very possibility to be a significant danger to the development of true interoperability, given the strength of Microsoft and it's reluctance in the past to embrace open standards. (Even the next version of Internet Explorer is expected not to be compliant with W3C standards).

In the next few years, it's likely that there will be race to develop a common platform for all online media content, that works anywhere, on any device. On one side will be Microsoft, following the path set out by Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie. On the other side will be everyone else who hates the idea of Microsoft gaining domination of another generation of computing. Let battle commence....

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