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Whitepaper: Consumer and Personal Storage: Trends and Outlook (1/3/2007)
By Kurt Scherf, Parks Associates
1.0 The Role and Definition of the Media Server
1.1 Why the Media Server Now?
The manner by which consumers will access, store, and share personal and commercial content is undergoing a fundamental change, thanks to both demand- and supply-side drivers. As end users build personal libraries of self-generated digital content (primarily photos and home videos) and acquire commercial content such as digital music and video, they will be seeking more secure backup and sharing solutions. At the same time, competitive pressures and the needs of both service providers and end-user equipment manufacturers are encouraging industry players to develop and deploy differentiated consumer electronics and home computer form factors, characterized by ever-increasing storage, home networking capabilities, and the capability of sharing different content and services in and outside of the home.
These push and pull drivers set the stage for the widespread availability and uptake of so-called"media servers," a dynamic category of products that will expand the reach of a variety of players - service providers, equipment manufacturers, home networking vendors, and other component providers. Our report Digital Living 2006 Forecasts identifies and forecasts key categories of media server products. It examines the usage scenarios for each form factor based on Parks Associates' primary consumer research. This paper focuses on the growth opportunities for a number of product form factors that fit the definition of in-home media servers. It provides commentary on both industry and consumer drivers for the distribution and uptake of media servers. For purposes of this paper, we have identified four categories of media servers:
1. NAS (network-attached storage) Media Servers
function primarily as data and content backup devices - mainly in concert
with home computers.
1.2 Defining the Media Server
A media server is a platform that can provide digital content to other platforms through certain networking technologies. A digital media server in a whole-home entertainment environment should also have the ability to aggregate content delivered through different platforms or located on different devices on the home network and distribute it to any device in any room of the house. Finally, the capabilities of the media server include enforcement of content protection and rights management rules.
2.0 Industry and Business Drivers for the Media Server
Technology developments have advanced the media server product from concept (remember the discussions in the late 1990s about the so-called "media furnace"?) to market reality. Chief among the technology drivers are new and improved variants of both wired and wireless home networking solutions that better facilitate (with enhanced throughput, range, and quality-of-service measures) the in-home streaming of multimedia content. In addition, a number of companies developing integrated microprocessors - so-called system-on-chip solutions - have now entered the networked storage market. With these solutions, manufacturers can take advantage of decreases of up to 25% in bill-ofmaterials (BOM) prices. The entry of third-party middleware vendors and media serverspecific software solutions has also allowed manufacturers to more quickly (and costeffectively) build media server (and receiver) capability into a variety of end-user products.
2.1 Hard Drive Manufacturers Seek New Business
From a business standpoint, several key variables are driving a number of companies to more aggressively position themselves within the media-server marketplace. Hard-drive manufacturers are seeking to boost their sales beyond the home computer and enterprise markets that have been a staple of their business. To this end, they see significant opportunity in developing storage solutions for the consumer electronics industry, including media servers. This strategy is reflected in recent data from Seagate Technology (Figure 3).
2.2 Service Provider Competition
With global telecom players entering the market for multichannel television services, the competitive dynamics that exist among the various service providers will shape the delivery business models. Competition will expand the opportunities for customer premise equipment beyond the set-top box. Already, competition between the main players in the United States cable market and DBS satellite providers has sped up the evolution of the digital video recorder (DVR) from a solution deemed "too early for its time" to an absolute necessity in luring new consumers, keeping existing subscribers, and building average revenue per subscriber/user (ARPU). Service providers are finding that the digital video recorder enhances revenue per subscriber, both on a monthly subscription basis and in other services, as data indicate that customers with a DVR are significantly more likely to use additional fee-based services such as video-on-demand.
As the competition to acquire and retain subscribers for access, entertainment, and communications services heats up, the media server and related receivers will play an integral role in delivering enhanced content applications. The delivery of enhanced video services to subscribers will require feature-rich fixed media server platforms across a variety of form factors, including the set-top box, the multimedia PC, and other consumer electronics platforms with media server functionality. Each video provider will also seek to expand access to content on a variety of mobile and portable platforms, which will enhance the media server's role as a critical mediator between fixed and mobile services.
3.0 Consumer Drivers for the Media Server
Many consumers are already avid adopters of storage-rich platforms, thanks to their acquisition of portable digital music players, the PVR/DVR, and other drive-based products. Outside of storage directly embedded into end-user platforms, consumers' use of platforms such as the home computer to aggregate digital media will spur the purchase of expanded and/or supplementary drives. Parks Associates' Profiles of PC Usage study finds that significant percentages of consumers are expecting their digital storage needs to grow by at least 50% in the next year.
The following factors are driving this demand:
¥ The growing penetration of broadband Internet,
which drives consumer adoption of digital entertainment content such as
downloaded music files.
In a nutshell, the growth of digital multimedia content is the most powerful driver of consumer demand for storage capacity. A large percentage of consumers have stored different forms of digital content on their PCs and hard-drive-based consumer electronics devices. Among households with a data network, which are also likely to be early adopters of digital technologies, ownership of digital content, especially music and video content, is even more common. As these households accumulate an ever-growing amount of digital content, they will seek solutions to store, archive, and back up such content at a central location. In addition, they will look for technologies that can network PC and consumer electronics and distribute multimedia content around the house. The growth of high-definition video content, which has a much larger footprint and requires even more storage capacity, will only accelerate this process.
In addition to its ability to pull content from such sources as the Internet, the home computer complements the portable form factors that have grown popular for media rendering (the digital camera) and playback (the portable digital music player). As a server, the home computer form factor stores downloaded content as either the primary or auxiliary storage point, and it provides a simple interface for organization, editing, and other features. As the portable media form factors continue to penetrate households in greater numbers (Figure 6), the home computer and other media servers will grow in importance in aggregating, securing, and sharing an array of content. This trend has begun with photos and music but will certainly migrate to video and games as well.
4.0 Growth and Outlook of the Product Category
Annual sales of media server form factors will be significant over the next five years, to the tune of more than 20 million shipments in 2010 (see Figure 7). Of the four form factors identified in Section 1.1, growth and success of each will depend on the following variables:
¥ NAS Media Servers: Continue to market the products
for their ability to secure and protect high-value content. Expand consumer
education about the capabilities of various advanced multimedia and entertainment
solutions. Seek complementary digital media adapter solutions that can
be bundled as a seamless "distributed entertainment" package together
wit the NAS device.
Kurt Scherf is the Vice President and Principal Analyst for Parks Associates. Parks Associates is a market research firm focused on all product and service segments that are 'digital' or provide connectivity within the home, including entertainment, home networking, home controls, wireless networking, broadband, and on-demand services.
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