Adobe and Microsoft each announced new technology for playing back video on your computers, setting up yet another format war. As always there are appealing features promised in the technology, but make no mistake: the goal, the only goal, is to seduce us into watching online videos for the purpose of exposing us to advertising.

Adobe’s Flash technology dominates the Web, powering YouTube and MySpace videos and most other video sharing sites. Adobe plans to introduce the Adobe Media Player, which will be able to play downloaded Flash videos separately from Internet Explorer. Perhaps it’s just the way this news article is written that makes this sound like something that benefits Adobe way more than anything it does for us:

“The Adobe Media Player will support two kinds of security: One will allow a downloaded, shareable video file to be bundled with advertising that can’t be separated. The other content control system will tie downloaded content to specific machines or people.

“By taking advantage of extensions to RSS, publishers can also deliver different forms of advertising such as text, animation or videos, according to Adobe executives.

“Adobe will provide a server that can track, using browser cookies, how users view downloaded media. That information can be reported back to publishers.”

Oh, and Adobe promises the video quality will be better than online Flash videos. About time, eh? Am I the only one that finds YouTube videos virtually unwatchable because the video quality is so appalling?

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced Silverlight, a video format intended to compete with Flash and deliver high quality video in a browser. Like many Microsoft ventures over the years, it was introduced with a multitude of business partners promising to support the format, and it is far more than a browser plugin – it’s built on an elaborate foundation that theoretically permits developers to come up with all sorts of cool things. Here’s an article with some of the details.

Microsoft argues that Silverlight has superior technology and higher quality video. This is eerily reminiscent of Microsoft’s introduction of its Windows Media Audio format, when Microsoft trotted out dozens of industry partners and argued that WMA files were technically superior to MP3s, offering higher quality sound in smaller files. It was a sales pitch that left consumers yawning, and for good reason – the real purpose of the technology was to convert consumers to an audio format with DRM restrictions so copyright holders could create new revenue streams. The WMA format has survived, of course, but many of Microsoft’s business partners in that venture have moved on, and the dominant audio format comes from Apple – not because of its technical characteristics, but because the iPod’s coolness factor overcame everything else.

The same considerations lead this blogger to see an uphill road for Microsoft Silverlight. On the surface, there seems to be little incentive for web publishers and content developers to use the Microsoft technology instead of Flash.

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