The battle for the future has begun.
There is a major battle going on in the technology industry. On one side, we have companies like Sony and Philips siding with movie studios like Fox and Disney. On the other, NEC and Toshiba have joined forces with Warner Home Video.
The battle is about the future for DVD technology. Basically there are two competing technologies - Blu-Ray, backed by the Sony side of the argument, and HD DVD backed by the others. Both offer massive increases on storage volume - approximately five times the size of current DVDs in the former case.
News that major retailers are stopping selling home video recorders sent alarm bells ringing in the entertainment industry - the DVD has taken off, and sticking with old videos could be the death of major companies. Whoever wins the battle of the DVD formats will stand to make millions by licensing the technology to film-makers around the world.
Now this is nothing new. But what is new about this story is that the mainstream press and the online media are coming clean about what will be the driving force behind the decision. Many readers might remember the battle between the two video formats Betamax and VHS in the 1980s. Betamax was universally hailed as the better technology, but eventually VHS won out. Certainly I can remember the playground taunts reserved for those unfortunate kids whose parents had invested in Betamax, only to find that the films never got released.
However, the hidden factor in the VHS/Betamax campaign was a force little noticed by the media commentary at the time, and it has been a factor in the technological development for the last decade - the gigantic economic clout of the pornography industry. According to Reuters the porn industry outstrips the number of new films produced by the mainstream film industry and makes the industry the key factor in deciding which technology the next generation of DVDs will be based on.
Now with VHS becoming a technology of the past it's worth reflecting on the role of the porn industry in deciding the outcome of the great Betamax/VHS war 20 odd years ago. Initially Betamax, while better technology, producing better image quality, were limited to one hour films. With the sudden arrival of the home film market, the porn industry arrived on the scene, and its choice of the VHS format was the nail in the coffin for Betamax.
Since then the porn industry has been the driving force behind a whole host of technological innovations that few would associate with the sex industry. If you've ever watched streaming video online or listened to online radio, you are using technology originally invented to allow people to watch sex films online. The innovation behind multiple camera angles so beloved of Sky football coverage, that you can access by 'pressing the red button', was invented at least a decade ago for the sex industry.
What makes the DVD debate interesting is not the relative merits of the different formats but how open the industry in general has become about who is calling the tune. Many news reports have covered this aspect of the debate - reflecting in part the fact that it is impossible to use the internet for very long without realising just how major a player the porn industry is.
The real tragedy of the story is almost entirely missed by the news reports. Reuters' news coverage of the story, endlessly reprinted in magazines and online technological news websites, contains a predictable little pun about 'watching the porn industry to see what happens', yet it doesn't of course mention any of the realities of the industry itself.
Once again the only people who will benefit will be the big technology companies. Thousands of others will have their lives ruined, yet we will only hear about different DVD formats.