MPEG, 5 years from now

MPEG will soon be 32. It has produced many important standards that have changed the industry and the lives of billions of people. What will MPEG be 5 years from now?

MPEG is strong

The MPEG scope is digital media: analysis, compression, transport and consumption of digital moving pictures and audio for broadcast, broadband, mobile and physical distribution. MPEG standards have an extremely wide range of customers belonging to all industries that need digital audio and video packaged for their needs. Because of this, the MPEG brand is universally recognised, even by the public at large.

It should also be noted that MPEG has started applying its expertise to compression and transport of other data. MPEG has started working on compression of DNA reads from high speed sequencing machines some 5 years ago. The field is very active and there is no doubt that in five years it will continue to be so.

Another strength is the MPEG organisation, a flat structure based on interacting units belonging to technology-centred competence centres coordinated by a Technical Coordination Committee. It is the result of a 30-year long natural process driven by the specific needs of the group. MPEG has a large and competent membership with a full ecosystem of experts contributing to the development of technologies needed by MPEG standards. It also has a consolidated and experienced leadership team.

A third strength is the vast network of client communities, typically represented by their standards organisations and/or industry fora. This network is the result of an effective communication policy that includes liaisons letters, press communiqués released at every meeting documenting the progress of work, the MPEG website providing general information, workshop on existing or planned standards, white papers describing the purpose of approved standards, video tutorials and more.

A fourth strength is the MPEG business model. MPEG develops the best standards using the best available technologies provided by industry and academia. Good standards remunerate good IP whose holders may choose to use the revenues to develop more good IP for future standards.

MPEG has weaknesses of its own

At a speech I gave at the 100th MPEG meeting held in Geneva in 2012, I said that the MPEG area of work was so wide, so important for humans and with so many opportunities that, if in 100 years MPEG did not exist any longer, it would not be because the MPEG mission had been exhausted, but because the MPEG leaders of the time had not been able to manage the work of the group properly.

I confirm what I said, but it is a reality that digital media is a maturing business area. The most critical needs, e.g. digital television and media on mobile, have been satisfied. More needs exist but with many unknowns. MPEG is populated by excellent experts and, in the past, their expertise could cope with the need to convert to digital or mobile experiences which users were already accustomed to. Today, however, we are facing the problem that available and possible technologies may be used to offer new products, services or applications. Unfortunately we do not know what are the new products, services or applications using those technologies.

A good example is provided by the 27 year old MP3 standard. It took several years before the excellent MP3 technology found the use we all know. Other MPEG standards have not been so lucky.

The weakness is then that MPEG is a technical group almost without participation of people who can contribute the information that, merged with the existing technical information, can guide the group to develop the right standards.

MPEG has become the reference group for digital media compression and transport. As I have written several times, MPEG standards enable products, services and applications that are worth more than 1.5 T$ p.a. MPEG – a a working group – has achieved such an importance when there are Technical Committees whose economic importance is orders of magnitude less than that of the MPEG working group. So far this did not make much difference because MPEG’s client industries were keen on getting good technologies for their affiliates. In the new competitive environment the MPEG lack of status matters.

Finally MPEG suffers from its very success. Its business model has been the engine of MPEG success, but its unreviewed business model matters and more.

MPEG is threatened

The fact that digital media is maturing has creates another weakness: there is increasing competition in digital media standards. MPEG standards remain the best, but there are other groups developing competing standards with features that are at odds with the MPEG business model. Because of this the share of the client industry adopting MPEG standards is no longer as high as it used to be.

So far MPEG standards have dominated the broadcasting and mobile domains and had to face competition in the “internet” domain. MPEG’s dominance is threatened by the fact that some industries may abandon MPEG standards not because they are best but because they cannot compete on other features that other groups provide. MPEG standards may become less relevant if MPEG stays exclusively with its traditional business model.

MPEG standards are synonymous of globalisation. The established broadcast business was local by definition, but MPEG standards provided an enabling compression technology ready for global adoption. The mobile industry started as local but was easily conquered by the benefits offered by the global MPEG standards. The threat today is that globalisation may no longer be MPEG’s ally because in the new environment the global MPEG brand may be replaced by some local brands.


Borrowing from and extending the actions identified by the MPEG Future Manifesto, MPEG has the following opportunities

  1. Enhance its links with the research and academic community to stimulate more research on technologies that are relevant to MPEG’s standardisation scope
  2. Review its business model, analyse its continuing effectiveness and relevance to industry, identify the need for changes and, if any identified, take action to implement them
  3. Step up communication with its client industries to identify any early needs for standards and obtain requirements
  4. Inject “market-awareness” into MPEG to sharpen the target of MPEG standards
  5. Enhance the value of MPEG standards by strengthening and expanding collaboration with other standards committees, e.g. by developing joint standards
  6. Increase promotion of MPEG standards with its client industries
  7. Dedicate sufficient resources to cover other areas in need of compressions by leveraging MPEG technologies and expertise
  8. Preserve and refine the organisation of MPEG.


Barring exogenous forces, in 5 years MPEG will still be around. However, the next 5 years will not be an easy ride. This does not mean that MPEG will not be able to deliver the results that its customers – industry and end users – expect.

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