Why Google, Microsoft, Netflix And Others Are Forming A Video Alliance

Photo courtesy of David Jones via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

The biggest tech companies may not always get along, but when it comes to open media, there are many on board, shaking hands in agreement.

The Alliance for Open Media is an open media consortium launched in tandem by Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Cisco, Amazon, Netflix and Intel.

The goal? To develop next-generation, royalty-free media formats, including a new video codec (data compression coding for video) by 2017.

The problem: Video formats are outdated, expensive

Video consumption is growing at a rapid pace, a fact which is both problematic and promising. Problematic, because of patent royalty costs and systems, and promising, because tech companies have potential to leverage videos to their benefit.

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The problem is that, as Ars Technica puts it, the issue of patents and royalties plague the video industry, and it’s about to get worse: “While H.264/AVC [advanced video coding] video had relatively cheap licensing, it looks as if its successor, H.265/HEVC [high efficiency video coding], is going to be considerably more expensive.”

The current HEVC format is a threat especially to non-commercial video streaming, as there is no way to pay high royalty costs. The Alliance’s founding companies hope to change this with a new jointly developed, open-source codec.

The solution: A new, all-purpose video format

The Alliance for Open Media wants to improve upon HEVC by developing a new format for real-time, Internet media streaming. The format will be:

  • Interoperable and open
  • Optimized for the web
  • Scalable to any modern device at any bandwidth
  • Designed with a low computational footprint and optimized for hardware
  • Capable of consistent, highest-quality, real-time video delivery
  • Flexible for both commercial and non-commercial content, including user-generated content

As it happens, some of the Alliance’ founding companies are already developing such formats. These include:

  • Thor: A royalty-free format being developed by Cisco
  • Daala: Next-generation video codec by Mozilla
  • VP9 & VP10: Google’s open-source video codecs

As Mozilla puts it, “We believe that Daala, Cisco’s Thor, and Google’s VP10 combine to form an excellent basis for a truly world-class royalty-free codec.”

Will it work?

Due to the complexity of patenting, it’s unclear just how, even when developed jointly, these tech companies would be able to get around issues regarding royalties.
No strategy of substance is known yet, but the intention is for the companies to share not only technology and development, but the legal legwork required to review patents. Growth of the Alliance will also be key, as the more technology and patents are on their side, the less legal roadblocks they’ll face in reaching their goal.

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Jennifer Markert