Adobe Takes Swipe at Microsoft With New Media Player

The biggest problem with online streaming video is that one must be connected to the Internet to view it. That problem may be mitigated by Adobe’s new media player. The company on Monday announced at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) trade show in Las Vegas a new Flash-focused, application-based player that will let consumers download and view content online or offline.

Currently, Adobe’s Flash architecture lets consumers view video — and rich video — online through their Web browser via a plug-in, which runs in the background and remains hidden from a consumer’s view after the initial download. Flash is typically used for creating animation, advertisements and interactive applications for Web browsers.

Adobe’s Media Player, on the other hand, will be its own application separate from the browser, running on Windows or Mac OS X. Consumers will download and use it much like Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, which will likely be Adobe’s prime competitor. The key differences between the two are not yet entirely clear — Adobe is previewing its player at NAB, but won’t offer a beta for download until later this year.

The company says it expects to deliver a fully functional final free version for download by the end of 2007.

Two Angles

The Adobe Media Player’s main potential lies in the two segments Adobe is looking to serve: the consumer and the video publisher.

From a consumer standpoint, the new player will let users find and download video content, rate the content and create a list of favorites that can automatically download new videos, television show episodes or video podcasts.

For content publishers, Adobe says the Media Player will enable better ways to deliver, monetize, brand, track and protect video content. In addition, the player will support a variety of video delivery options, including on-demand streaming, live streaming, progressive download and protected download-and-play. Plus, Adobe says, publishers will be able to customize the look and feel of the player “on the fly” to match the brand or theme of the currently playing content.

Adobe was unable to respond to press requests today due to the company’s participation at the NAB trade show.

Despite the lack of an available beta, Adobe says the new player will let advertisers create innovative advertising programs that will work with the video content, whether it’s viewed online or offline. In addition, even though a consumer may be able to view a free television show, Adobe says it will provide “a range of protection options, including streaming encryption, content integrity protection and identity-based protection.”

Competitive Challenges

Though competitors may not currently play on exactly the same field, Adobe faces numerous challenges when it comes to providing online video. YouTube, for example, leads in video views, while the NBC-News Corp. online content streaming initiative will bring network-backed television shows to the Web for online viewing.

In addition, Adobe faces competition from iTunes, which provides high-quality TV and movie downloads for playback on PCs, in the living room via Apple TV, and out and about via video iPods.

It’s unclear how Adobe will cooperate with any of these competitors or if it will go head-to-head.

Boxing With Microsoft

Las Vegas may be the location for some of the world’s biggest boxing matches, but for this round, Adobe and Microsoft are taking the gloves off. Microsoft, also at NAB Monday, announced an initiative of its own: Silverlight, which is a cross-platform browser plug-in designed to help Web sites deliver rich interactive applications and video. It’s designed to compete head-to-head with Adobe’s Flash.

“It’s all going to be an interesting thing to watch,” Van Baker, a Gartner analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “Microsoft is trying to displace Adobe Flash player with Silverlight, and Adobe is trying to put a dent in Windows Media Player with their own Media Player, but I think it’s going to be a serious challenge for either of them to make much headway because both are so entrenched.”

The key for either company to be successful, Baker noted, is to get content providers to offer content in the Microsoft or Adobe formats.

“This stuff is fairly easy to get on someone’s machine — all you have to do is get on a site with content that’s unique to that player, whether it be a Flash competitor or all-around media player, and once it’s on, it’s on,” Baker noted. “In that sense, it’s likely that we’ll see both pieces of software showing up on a fair number of machines because both Microsoft and Adobe have the ability to push it out there.”

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