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FAQ: Adobe Media Player

A few not-so-obvious tidbits about Adobe's newly-unveiled desktop app By Kevin Schmitt

Adobe today used the occasion of the annual NAB conference to announce the Adobe Media Player, a desktop-based application built on the Apollo framework which will contain features targeting media producers and consumers alike. It's not due until later this year, so there's a lot that can change, but having recently had the chance to be briefed on an early version of the product, I thought it would be a good idea to do a completely made-up question-and-answer session to better address some of the information not readily apparent in the official press release.

Speaking of the official press release, you can find it at Adobe's web site. Give it a good read; I'll just wait here patiently.

Oh good, you're back, so let's get down to business. So, now you know how Adobe is positioning the Adobe Media Player (which I'll hereafter refer to as AMP), but there's a little more to the story. As I mentioned in the teaser, I was recently briefed on an early version of the product, during which time I had the chance to ask some very targeted questions of Mark Randall, Adobe's Chief Strategist for Dynamic Media Organization and Craig Barberich, the Group Product Manager, and the responses I got are very interesting. So, allow me to present the more salient points of that discussion in a mock Q&A consisting of questions I'm actually asking of myself, but it sounds really cool anyway, like it's someone else doing the asking or something. Anyway, here we go:

What is the Adobe Media Player (AMP)?

At the risk of parroting the official information too closely, AMP is a desktop application built on top of Apollo that will attempt to, in effect, serve more than one master. First, AMP aims to provide an officially supported way to allow quick and easy playback of FLV files, which has always been a glaring hole in Flash's feature set. Said FLVs will be double-clickable from the desktop, though they can be either local or online—AMP won't care where the media comes from. It's worth noting that Adobe is promising higher-quality playback of existing FLV files, though I wasn't offered specific details on how that is going to work.

Second, AMP aims to provide an easy way to find and subscribe to your favorite media content, which constitutes the "features for content viewers" part of the equation. The program itself could conceivably be described as an amalgam of a desktop program such as iTunes and a content portal like YouTube (my description, not Adobe's). Another apt comparison would be to programs such as desktop-based email and RSS readers, where you use a desktop app to access, download, and cache online content for both immediate and later offline viewing. AMP aims to provide a different and what Adobe hopes will be a better experience than, for example, just visiting a site like YouTube for video content, in that AMP will be able to cache media locally for when the user is offline. Additionally, AMP will provide mechanisms to discover, download, and interact with video content with social features such as tagging, commenting, and rating.

Lastly, AMP is also being billed as a platform that media producers will be happy with, as AMP serves as host for a bevy of producer-friendly features that will help deliver media in formats that the content owners have strict control over. Let's go over a few of these:

Content protection. Yes, it's DRM (for the first time attached to Flash Video), and it comes in two flavors. The first is identity-based, which is akin to how the iTunes Store does things (e.g., you're locked to a single copy of the content). The second type is called "content integrity protection," which ensures that the content and the associated branding and advertisements come as a connected unit and can't be separated. I wasn't provided with specifics on how either protection scheme will be implemented, so it's something to keep an eye on as the product gets closer to release.

Branding. Adobe is touting the use of open standards such as RSS and SMIL to allow content producers to customize the presentation of their media—theming, skinning, custom panels (or "pods," as they are known in the AMP vernacular), and, of course...

Ads, ads, ads. Producers will have the ability to add overlays to video content ("bugs," tickers, or other such integrated advertising), provide ads before and/or after the selected content, and feature banner ads inline with the media.

Measurement. Anonymous tracking stats on which clips are being viewed and which ads are being clicked on will be available to the content producers. This isn't exactly a radical shift from the way things are now on the Web, though it is novel to have such stats available from a desktop app in this particular context.

So that's what AMP is all about. Let's move on.

When is it going to be available and how can I get it?

The exact release date is vague at the moment; Adobe has only stated that betas will be released sometime in 2007, with a final release date by the end of the year. Remember that since AMP is built on the Apollo framework, it is necessarily closely tied to Apollo development. As Apollo itself is in public Alpha, the final release of AMP is a ways off yet. This is complete conjecture on my part, but it seems that AMP is intended to be the "killer app" to help drive Apollo adoption (for both end users and developers alike, as you need Apollo to run AMP and AMP serves as a "real world" example of what Apollo is capable of). OK, end of speculation (for now).

As for how you'll be able to get it, Adobe has stated that AMP will be available as a direct download from Adobe as well as from various media partner sites. As for who those media partners might be, Adobe has nothing to announce yet; look for those partnerships to be made public sometime this summer.

What will it look like?

Well, the following screenshot might shed some light on the situation (fig. 1):

Figure 1: Here's AMP, or at least part of it. Click the image for a larger view.

Again, please note that no partner deals have been announced, so the clips you see in the screenshot are strictly for demonstration purposes, at least for now. Anyway, you can see some of the consumer features here, such as playlists, ratings, and links to the user's subscriptions and library.

What media formats will it support?

You'll hear a lot about FLV when Adobe mentions AMP. Indeed, the playback of Flash Video is one of the main reasons AMP even exists, as it leverages one of Adobe's star technologies. However, I specifically asked about AMP's support for formats such as QuickTime or Windows Media, and was told (somewhat vaguely) that AMP would support the dominant formats that are available on the Web today. So while FLV is the focus, keep an eye out for announcements on other media formats that AMP will support as it gets closer to release.

So, it's free? How does that work?

Yes, AMP, like the Apollo framework it runs on top of, will be free to download, use, and develop for.

OK, fine, but where's the money at?

There are several ways various parties will get paid with AMP. First, Adobe's cut. Like Apollo, Adobe is banking on AMP helping to spur sales of their existing lines of content creation and content server products. There's also an AMP-specific server product targeted at media creators which will measure things like which clips are being viewed, which ads are being clicked on, how many subscribers a show or channel has, and the geographic location of the IP addresses of viewers.

As for the media producers, Adobe figures that ad-supported content will be the way to go, so be prepared for ads aplenty. However, the wild card here is the identity-based DRM mentioned earlier, which seems to be indicative of "pay for play" content available directly in AMP. I asked about that specifically, and was told that transaction support will be available in AMP, though the initial focus will largely be on ad-supported content. So we'll just have to see if content producers go the direct pay route, which would effectively make AMP a direct competitor to the iTunes Store.

Anything else we need to know?

It's worth mentioning that AMP is designed and built to support open standards. For example, when an AMP user subscribes to a show, video podcast, channel, or whatever else, they're subscribing to an RSS feed. It's also good to hear that support for other media formats are planned, though we'll have to wait for specific details on that. Plus, as AMP is built on top of Apollo, it's using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, in addition to Flash. Now, Flash is more or less proprietary these days, so we can't count that as a truly open technology, but with Adobe having control over many of the more popular content production tools on the market, it's good to see standards support in products where standards support should be available, instead of introducing proprietary solutions.

So, that's what we know so far about AMP. There's a long way to go between today's announcement and what the final release will end up as, so it will definitely bear watching as development of both Apollo and AMP unfolds.

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Though the fame, riches, and notoriety of being a DMN contributor are both tantalizing and substantial, Kevin Schmitt still stubbornly insists on continuing his work as the Director of Interactive Services at EFX Media, a production house located just outside of Washington, D.C. Feel free to follow his updates and contact him through Twitter if you have something to share - he's ready to believe you!
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