Media Technology

Playing the game

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

A while back I listed in a post 50 television programs the Boston Globe considered to be the top sci-fi shows on TV. In comments, we discussed shows we felt were missing, but none of us picked up that Max Headroom was missing from the list. Now that I look back on the discussion, I am surprised by its absence. Though Max Headroom was a short-lived series, I considered it to be both innovative and entertaining.

If you haven’t seen Max Headroom, the show centers around a television crew where the main character, a television journalist, has his personality copied into a digital construct named Max Headroom. In this future time, political entities no longer exist, and society is ruled by corporate rules and regulations, especially several competing broadcast companies, which, among other things, don’t allow televisions to be turned off. People are subjected, day in and day out, to broadcasting, including a continuous barrage of ads.

I was reminded of Max Headroom when I read about Microsoft Live last week, and again when I read Ray Ozzie’s supposedly leaked memo today. I don’t think any of us really doubts that the Microsoft memos were leaked deliberately and with careful thought and planning. Both memos, Gates and Ozzie’s, read as if they’ve been copy-edited, and every phrase meticulously constructed for maximum conjecture and obfuscation–perfect for a new takeover campaign.

Much of the writing is the usual hype–the sense of being on the verge of ’something new’–the ‘aha’ about technologies that are ubiquitous. But what surprised me about Ozzie’s memo and the Live discussion was the strong reference to advertising. Ozzie wrote:

Most challenging and promising to our business, though, is that a new business model has emerged in the form of advertising-supported services and software. This model has the potential to fundamentally impact how we and other developers build, deliver, and monetize innovations. No one yet knows what kind of software and in which markets this model will be embraced, and there is tremendous revenue potential in those where it ultimately is.

Julie Lerman also noticed this from the Microsoft Live announcement: advertising is now being seen as a technological innovation:

Now there is windows live and office live – but somehow the repetetive them(e) that kept jumping out at me when reading the press release was “advertising”.

Opera had ads around it’s browser before going all free; Google makes its money through adsense, and I’ve seen an increasing number of tools that you can use for free…as long as you allow certain bits of software to sit on your machine, counting your key strokes, reading you words, and feeding you focused ads. I do foresee a time when we’ll download Microsoft tools and products–all complete with bar frame and flitty, flighty ads. Not only that, but the technology will be added into .NET that enables those who build tools to do the same–and this enabling will then make it all okay.

At a time when television, radio, and music are becoming subscriber-based and on-demand downloadable for small fees, normally ad-free spaces–such as our desktops, browsers, and every day tools–will pick up the vacuum left by the broadcasters. You will have a choice: pay for the software, or allow ads. It is an inevitable next step in software product releases. With this approach, the software pays and pays no matter how long it takes people to upgrade. More importantly from Micrsoft’s point of view, the companies no longer need worry about pirated copies of any of the software because everyone can get it for free.

In our rush and our new enthusiasm–!?–for this new breed of ads, I can only hope that we remember, as Max Headroom surely could remind us: nothing is really free.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email