As A Technology, It Is Called Multimedia


As a technology, it is called multimedia. As a revolution, it is the sum of
many revolutions wrapped into one: A revolution in communication that combines
the audio visual power of television, the publishing power of the printing
press, and the interactive power of the computer. Multimedia is the
convergence of these different professions, once thought independent of one
another, coming together to form a new technological approach to the way
information and ideas are shared.

What will society look like under the evolving institutions of interactive
multimedia technologies? Well, if the 1980\'s were a time for media tycoons,
the 1990\'s will be for the self-styled visionaries. These gurus see a dawning
digital age in which the humble television will mutate into a two-way medium
for a vast amount of information and entertainment. We can expect to see:
movies-on-demand, video games, databases, educational programming, home
shopping, telephone services, telebanking, teleconferencing, even the complex
simulations of virtual reality. This souped-up television will itself be a
powerful computer. This, many believe, will be the world\'s biggest media
group, letting consumers tune into anything, anywhere, anytime.

The most extraordinary thing about the multimedia boom, is that so many moguls
are spending such vast sums to develop digital technologies, for the delivering
of programs and services which are still largely hypothetical.

So what is behind such grand prophecies? Primarily, two technological advances
known as digitization (including digital compression), and fibre optics.

Both are indispensable to the high-speed networks that will deliver dynamic new
services to homes and offices. Digitization means translating information,
either video, audio, or text, into ones and zeros, which make it easier to
send, store, and manipulate. Compression squeezes this information so that
more of it can be sent using a given amount of transmission capacity or
bandwidth.

Fibre-optic cables are producing a vast increase in the amount of bandwidth
available. Made of glass so pure that a sheet of it 70 miles thick would be as
clear as a window-pane, and the solitary strand of optical fibre the width of a
human hair can carry 1,000 times as much information as all radio frequencies
put together. This expansion of bandwidth is what is making two-way
communication, or interactivity, possible.

Neither digitization nor fibre optics is new. But it was only this year that
America\'s two biggest cable-TV owners, TCI and Time Warner , said they would
spend $2 billion and $5 billion respectively to deploy both technologies in
their systems, which together serve a third of America\'s 60m cable homes.
Soon, some TCI subscriptions will be wired to receive 500 channels rather than
the customary 50; Time Warner will launch a trail full-service network in
Florida with a range of interactive services.

These two announcements signaled the start of a mad multimedia scramble in
America, home market to many of the world\'s biggest media, publishing, telecoms
and computer companies, almost all of which have entered the fray. The reasons
are simple: greed and fear: greed for new sources of revenue; fear that
profits from current businesses may fall as a result of reregulation or
cut-throat competition.

Multimedia has already had a profound affect on how these businesses interact
with one another. Mergers such as Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting, and
Paramount have set the stage. These companies continue the race to be the
first to lay solid infrastructure, and set new industry standards. Following
in the shadows will be mergers between: software, film, television, publishing,
and telephone industries, each trying to gain market share in the emerging
market.

So far, most firms have rejected the hostile takeovers that marked the media
business in the 1980s. Instead, they have favored an array of alliances and
joint ventures akin to Japan\'s loose-knit Keiretsu business groupings. TCI\'s
boss, John Malone, evokes "octopuses with their hands in each other\'s
pockets-where one starts and the other stops will be hard to decide." These
alliances represent a model of corporate structure which many see as mere
marriages of convenience, in which none wants to miss out on any futuristic
markets.

One may wonder how this race for market share and the merging of these
corporations will affect them personally. Well, at this point and time, it is
hard to say. However, there is some thought in the direction we are headed.

The home market, which was stated earlier, has its origins based around early
pioneers such as Atari, Nintindo, and Sega. These companies started with simple
games, but as technology increased, it began to open up new doors. The games
themselves are becoming more sophisticated and intelligent and are now offering
some of the first genres capable of attracting and holding an adult