MPEG LA Says H.264 Will Be Royalty Free For Life, For Content That Is Free

Mpegla-logo With all the talk of Apple devices, the Flash platform and the H.264 codec, there has been a lot of speculation in the industry on what MPEG LA planned to do when their current H.264 licensing terms expired in 2015. Today, MPEG LA put part of that speculation to rest as they have announced that they will not charge royalties for Internet video that is free to end users. That's certainly good news for many content owners but does not address the market for what the royalties will be a few years from now for subscription based content services and device manufactures who will still have to pay. The news also does nothing to address what I consider to be a bigger issues which is the need for browsers to give us a single codec we can call use. Companies like Mozilla and Opera are still going to have to pay for a license if they want to support H.264 which means we are not any closer to have much in the way of video standard on the Internet.

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  • CODECs cost money to develop and so does content. Neither should be free. Dan it seems like in the past two years your blog went from covering the streaming media space to mostly covering my area of expertise, monetized media. Where did you develop the position that there is a “need for browsers to give us a single codec we can all use?” Browser manufacturers have historically not developed CODECs. It’s almost if you are completely reducing the value of the monetized media foodchain. Things that have value have cost. Cost is a component of a business. Generally it’s serviced by _revenue_. Nobody is looking to make CODECs and Content free. Everything has a due price.

  • I cover lots of areas of the industry on the blog. The blog is called the “business of video” so naturally, much of what I am going to write about are the business models associated with online video.
    No where did I say or imply that content should be “free”. Based on surveys we have done and webinars on the topic, many, many content owners tell us they wish that one codec was supported across all platforms and on all devices. Encode once, delivery everywhere is what they want, but that’s simply not the reality in the market today.
    Browser companies don’t have to “develop” codecs in order for the industry to agree upon a standard.

  • gregory

    Christopher, where would the web be if we had to pay for rendering fonts? It would be nowhere. Video is just like fonts in that it represents a form of content. It can’t be ubiquitous under the current rules. This was a waste of time announcement.

  • No font’s are not like CODECs. CODECs are the result of scientific and mathematical research and development. The cost to get a CODEC to market can range from $1M to $100M and legal defense throws another chunk of overhead on top of that.
    Font’s, on the other hand, are the result of creative and artistic labor. Show me a $100M font please.
    We have entered the phase in the Streaming Media Industry where it appears that a group of “have nots” wants to disrupt, deny and destroy that which a group of “haves” has put billions into building.
    Let’s not forget this is a business. Not a hobby. Things of value have a price.

  • Dali

    Christopher, this debate is only basically about the uniform HTML5 video tag support in all browsers. I agree that things of value have a price (I worked on video codec’s before and it’s no piece of cake) but sometimes, that cost is captured in indirect ways. Where would we be if everybody had to pay to have a TCP/IP stack in order to connect to the internet? Network protocols are notoriously difficult to create/validate too.
    The most sensible approach I see for H264 is to follow the way of the PDF format. Free readers (i.e. decoders in browsers) and for-money tools to create/format such content. With time, basic versions of the Codec should become royaltee free (arguably H264 shouldn’t be far from that state) and newer versions in the making maintain their premium price tag. Commoditization is inevitable …