Microsoft's surprise decision to submit Windows Media Series 9 as a standards candidate to Hollywood underscores the software giant's ambitions to take its multimedia technology beyond the Net, as well as the considerable barriers it faces. This week, the Redmond, Wash.-based company sent in its underlying video-compression code for vetting by the Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers (SMPTE)--a first for Microsoft and a marked departure from the company's longtime commitment to keeping its technology proprietary. In doing so, Microsoft is aiming to provide a viable successor to MPEG-2, a compression standard that is the foundation of satellite, cable, video-editing systems and DVDs.
Microsoft submitted its technology to SMPTE on Monday, but waited until Friday to officially announce both that move and a blizzard of new Windows Media partnerships. The announcments were made at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam.
If SMPTE approves Windows Media Series 9 as a standard, Microsoft hopes its technology will become the de facto software for a range of set-top boxes, professional video-editing equipment, satellite transmissions and consumer electronics. Because the applications are disparate, SMPTE members are free to adopt any technology they choose.
The organization's endorsement could open doors for Microsoft and offer a sizable money-making opportunity in giving it royalty rates for usage of the technology for years to come.
What's more, industry watchers say, the move could be a first step for Microsoft in a lobbying campaign with technical standards bodies in other industries, such as wireless, where it has yet to gain a foothold for video delivery compared with rival RealNetworks. The vetting process of SMPTE would give Microsoft substantial credibility to shop its codec to partners outside of the PC business.
"Microsoft has decided to surrender the key family jewels to SMPTE to see that video engineers adopt it as an alternative to MPEG-2," said Richard Doherty, a director at research firm The Envisioneering Group.
"Windows Media 9 Series has not succeeded in as many systems or as many entertainment products as they hoped, and there's been a lot of criticism of how closed it is," Doherty added. "This is smart by them to run this up a standards flagpole."
The move comes one year after Microsoft debuted its next-generation proprietary technology with great fanfare in Hollywood. Celebrities such as James Cameron and LL Cool J were featured at the launch to underscore Microsoft's grand ambitions for its technology in Hollywood. But to date, those largely have not come to fruition.