European Networked and Electronic Media (NEM) initiative launches

How Europeans receive their digital entertainment in the future could change, following an event in Nice last week. At the launch of the bold and ambitious Networked and Electronic Media (NEM) initiative, the European Commission (EC) announced their intention to form an integrated, interoperable platform. Its broad scope stretches from the way media is created, through each of the stages of its distribution, to its playback.

The EC want its citizens to be able to locate the content they desire and have it delivered seamlessly, when on the move, at home or at work, no matter who supplies the devices, network, content, or content protection scheme.

With interconnectivity as its goal, it is fortunate that over 120 experts were there to share the vision and hear pledges of active support from companies such as Nokia, Intel, Philips, Alcatel, France Telecom, Thomson and Telefonica.

It might initially appear to be surprising that companies in direct competition are keen to work together, but again and again speakers stated they could not see incompatible, stand-alone solutions working. A long-term strategy for the evolution and convergence of technologies and services would be required.

The EC is being pragmatic in its approach. They have identified that many standards bodies have, and continue to, define standards in the areas that NEM encompasses, but recognise that some of these standards overlap. The NEM approach is to take a serious look at what’s available and what’s in the pipeline, pick out the best, integrate them together and identify where the gaps are. Where it finds holes, it will develop standards to fill them.

While the global access to content is not a unique idea, what is significant is that such a large and powerful organisation has stated its desire for it to be fully open and interoperable – not restricting the consumers choice at any stage in the process.

This is bound to please, if not surprise, many individuals and user organisations who feel that the wishes of the holder of rights to content are normally considered over and above those of the consumer. Following the keynote earlier in the week of EC Director João Da Silva, they now know they have a supporter within the higher echelons of the European Commission.

Many feel that the most difficult and challenging area for the EC will be to identify a solution for interoperating Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes. Currently DRM solutions are incompatible – locking certain types of purchased content, making them unplayable on all platforms.

With the potential of having a percentage of every media transaction that takes place globally, the prize for being the supplier of the world’s dominant DRM scheme is huge. This leads the companies who feel they have a chance in controlling it to not be very open to sharing.

Although entertainment is an obvious first step, it will encompass the remote provisions of healthcare, energy efficiency and control of the Smart Home. The over-arching initiative amalgamates the work of many currently running research projects that the EC has been funding for a number of years.

The NEM is a ten-year project, which in the everything-immediately age we live in, might seem like a lifetime away, but it’s important to remember that the digital delivery of media stretches a long way into the future. Decisions made and solutions selected now will have far reaching consequences.

This piece was featured on the BBC Web site.