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This paper discusses the evolution of optical networks from foundational data transport utilities and infrastructure to true enablers of next-generation services and facilities, specifically diverse rich digital media services, which are being produced, processed, and consumed by an increasingly sophisticated variety of end users. This evolution has been enabled by several major recent advances in optical networking, including the deployment of high-speed optical connections from core networks to enterprise and residential users; the dramatic increase in optical signal speed and reach; and the improvement in control and management planes to support increasingly diverse types of traffic and services. We describe two distinctive areas of broad impact of optical network technologies related to rich media services: high-resolution scientific visualization and high-quality, real-time consumer-driven media production and distribution. Finally, we discuss key trends that may develop next as optical networks further evolve shaped by both rich digital media service requirement and technology innovation.