Adobe player frees viewers to watch video offline

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Adobe Systems Inc. unveiled on Sunday video-player software that lets consumers play back video online or offline, a move that could help reshape an acrimonious debate over video-sharing.

An Adobe Media Player screen is shown in an undated handout picture. REUTERS/Handout

Adobe Video Player builds on the leading design software maker’s Flash player, already the dominant technology used to stream video online by sites ranging from YouTube to MySpace to MSN to Yahoo Video.

The video player is due to become available to consumers over the next several months, Adobe officials said.

Analysts hailed the new Adobe Video player as a technology breakthrough by allowing consumers to download and carry video from the Web to computers to mobile phones, while ensuring programmers can deliver advertising and track video usage.

Rival video players such as Windows Media Player from Microsoft Corp., QuickTime from Apple Inc. and RealPlayer from RealNetworks Inc. run on a range of devices but have none of the offline tracking features.

“Adobe has created the first way for media companies to release video content, secure in the knowledge that advertising goes with it,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said.

“Control is something that media companies absolutely get high on,” he said.

Fearful of piracy, media companies have been slow to release much of their TV, film and video programming onto the Web.

Last month, media conglomerate Viacom Inc. filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Google Inc. and its YouTube video-sharing site for failing to thwart the piracy of MTV, South Park and other popular Viacom television shows.

At root, the debate over digital piracy has been a case of digital tools outstripping the power of copyright owners to decide who watches what while also ensuring they can get paid.

The Adobe Video Player could ease such tensions by giving consumers a convenient way to watch, and even, in certain instances, to edit, video content, while assuring media owners they can retain ultimate control over where the video ends up.

“Consumers think: I bought my media, I own it, I should get to carry it with me from device to device. Adobe’s video player works the way consumers think about media by giving them the freedom to carry it with them,” McQuivey said.

Adobe officials said they have relied on a set of familiar, openly accessible technologies to create Adobe Video Player and will distribute the software, for free, using the same viral strategy that made Adobe’s Flash and Acrobat into the most popular ways to view video or read documents, respectively.

It relies on open standards for syndicating content, synchronizing multimedia and advertising tracking. Consumers disturbed that media owners can track their consumption habits have the option of blocking such tracking.

And because Adobe is already a primary supplier of the prior generation of video watching and editing tools, the company may avoid the classic “chicken and egg problem” that delays adoption of most new Web technologies: Will consumers use the video player before media owners embrace it?

Adobe Media Player offers higher-quality Flash video, full-screen playback and the ability to be disconnected from the Web -- on airplanes, for example. Viewers also can search for shows or share their ratings of shows with other viewers and automatically download new episodes of shows.

Mark Randall, chief strategist for dynamic media, said Adobe is working with a wide range of media companies, and plans to announce partnership deals next month.

The Adobe Video Player offers a way for established media companies to securely offer ad-supported video but also independent video producers, podcasters and home movie makers.

Adobe, of San Jose, California, timed the announcement for the start of the National Association of Broadcasters show, a major industry event, now underway in Las Vegas.