view digital entertainment puzzle
SHANGHAI: Imagine a world that is always interconnected, a world
filled with people linked to one another through devices so intuitive
they figure out your needs before you even lay a finger on them.
What would a home in such a world look like?
"The natural trend is now going from indoor to outdoor and
from bigger to smaller products," said Kei Kodera, chairman
of Sony China, speaking during the 15th China Daily CEO Roundtable.
Held at Shanghai's Grand Hyatt hotel, a group of 35 top industry
executives discussed the future of digital entertainment in China.
Their visions, some executives noted, are not part of some distant
future but are happening now.
South Korea, the world's most connected country, has made this
future into virtually a reality.
"All these things have become possible because they have
the infrastructure," said Kodera. The country, which has
made connectivity a priority, has 25,000 hot spots.
China is also steamrolling its way to widespread connectivity,
and gamers are leading the way.
Last year, China already had 26 million people who played video
games online. Cities across the country have large Internet cafes
with convenient payment systems and fast connections.
The end result is simple. The technology to create what Phillips
calls a "connected planet" is there.
Piet Coelewij, senior vice-president and general manager at Phillips
Consumer Electronics Group, said the company's vision of the future
is one in which technology links people from everywhere to everywhere
and, perhaps more importantly, is not challenging or scary but
easy to use.
"Many companies, like ours, have a vision of the future,"
The key, he said, will be ease of use. Information and entertainment
will "be more intuitive," he said.
During recent research, Phillips placed state of the art hardware
- some still in the test phase in the homes of test consumers.
"The overall results were extremely positive."
"This illustrates how consumers, if we make them the programme
managers, can become more satisfied."
One stumbling block in the path to this connected future is complexity
of use. Consumers want gear and gadgets that are easy to use and
New hardware and software has to be compatible both with the
new and the old. This "connected planet" has to evolve
naturally rather than lead from technological revolution to technological
China, he said, may just be a natural leader in this technological
"What amazes me most about China is the recognition that
everything has changed fundamentally in the last 20 years."
In Europe or North America, change is a temporary state that
leads from one rest period to the next. In China, change is the
More than that, whenever the country embraces something new,
it does it in mass.
"People here don't mind jumping into new technology, new
gadgets," said Kodera.
The Internet, which is relatively new in China, has been widely
embraced, said Guo Yu, director of user experience and design
at baidu.com. The company has seen the growth first hand, with
more than 50 million users logging on to their online bulletin
In 2005, China was expected to have 107 million Internet users
and 26 million online gamers. By 2007, those numbers were expected
to jump to 141 million people on the Internet and almost 42 million
Another example is mobile phones, which are now also digital
cameras and game consoles, portable digital assistants, schedulers
and even television consoles. They have GPS systems and other
uses limited only by the imagination and ever-vanishing technological
In China, 83 per cent of mobile phone users send SMS with their
phones, 61 per cent use them as note books and 35 per cent play
In many ways, China is embracing the digital age and not only
in the big cities, explained Alastair Campbell, president of Thomson
"China's entry into the digital age is incredibly fast,"
he said, pointing out a small city he recently visited in South
China as an example. The city, with a population of 250,000, has
recently built a state-of-the-art multiplescreen digital theatre.
The next big step, said Coelewij, will be digital television
and that is likely to happen during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"Digital entertainment is not about technology, it is about
changing consumer behaviour."
More and more, entertainment is an integral part of everyday
life and technology allows for entertainment tailored to the individual.
"You are unique. You are the centre of your world,"
said Yeh Ying, vice-president at Eastman Kodak and chair of the
Greater China Region.
A few technological problems still have to be addressed. An obvious
one, said Y.C. Chao, president of TSMC, is power. Power sources
and batteries, are not significantly more efficient but the processing
of power has improved drastically.
At the end of the day, however, there is a big difference between
what's technologically possible and what's feasible.
"What technology can do and what human beings can do is
quite different," said Kodera.
With the technology available to allow for unique experiences,
it may just be content that drives future developments. And it
is here that the hurdles begin to become more apparent.
Who will create, own and profit from the content is one big question
for developers. Culture, the need to create local content on a
global world, is another.
"We are very, very worried about IPR issues," said
Stanley Cheung, executive vice-president and managing director
at Walt Disney. "We are doing a lot worldwide and China is
definitely one of the markets we are looking at... As a content
provider we are sensitive to that."
In the years to come, content may be the driver for business.
As markets in Asia grow, so does the need for content that speaks
directly to them. "There is not much difference in the products
from country to country but content is quite different,"
The big question, said Patrick Whitney, director of the Institute
of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, is not so much
finding similarities between different markets but rather identifying
the differences and catering to them.
As the vision of the future becomes clearer and technology makes
the idea of a connected planet not only easier but feasible and,
in fact, inevitable, the task at hand will be putting the nuts
and bolts in place.
"It is important for China to develop more network infrastructure,"
"Many people will bring new ideas," he said, and more
Asian content will soon become available.
"I am expecting a lot from this digital entertainment puzzle."
(October 12, 2005)