I was late. The scene was another one of those big,
high tech conference keynote addresses. This time it was the Macromedia
International User Conference (UCON "99), and once again the location
was San Francisco"s Moscone Convention Center.
I was especially interested in this next speaker
because he is one of the champions of bringing more bandwidth to
the video Web. Macromedia"s special guest, thanks (as you might
expect) to a new strategic alliance, was Tom Jemoluk, Chairman,
President and CEO of cable modem pioneer, the @Home Network.
But as I hurried in, the huge, ten-foot screen at the front of my
side of the large, dark room wasn"t showing Jemoluk. Rather it was
blasting a custom-produced video presentation. Just the same, the
message was perhaps the most encouraging I had ever heard. In an
Internet world where video quality seems to constantly suffer at
the hands of limited bandwidth, the talking head was saying "Go
use the Bandwidth. We'll make more."
And as I continued to explore yet another producer and developer-oriented
conference (see last month"s Video Web column "Real
Neworks" Wild Web World", I was impressed with not only @Home"s
bravado in encouraging more bandwidth intensive program development
(including new forms of interactive video). I was even more impressed
-- dare I say, inspired -- by Macromedia"s
latest innovations which seemed to begin to define a new level of
web media. From Flash
4 and Director 7.02 to Macromedia"s new Shockwave.com
web site and Shockmachine virtual media player, this software company
that is known best for its multimedia authoring tools is demonstrating
real Internet savvy. The resulting products incorporate video and
also can help to make the video Web more commercially viable.
In a sense, Macromedia is leading a new charge on the increasingly
complex dynamics of these new digital media forms. At the same time,
they are illustrating new ways that video can and will be integrated
into online multimedia applications. As a result, I"m using this
month"s Video Web column to report on some of Macromedia"s array
of new announcements with a special focus on how these developments
are particularly relevant to video professionals who have the vision
to be focusing their sights on Net-based delivery.
For better or worse, we undeniably live in a world of increasing
fragmentation. Not only do we have an increasingly wide selection
of everything from video formats to lipstick colors, but we also
have an increasingly wide selection of "time-based media" delivery
systems for the Web. From the user"s perspective, the streaming
market is, at the moment, dominated by the Real
Networks RealPlayer, the Microsoft Windows Media Player and
QuickTime. And these streaming formats (or multimedia architectures)
now include animation vector formats, still image sequencing file
types, multiple media type layout strategies, and more.
addition, I believe that one must now add to the mix Macromedia"s
Flash and Shockwave players which offer an alternative platform
for the video Web including other "time-based media" such as games
and corporate presentations. Since Flash is becoming something of
an online vector graphic standard (Macromedia now claims a downloaded/installed
base of 100 million Flash players), its relationship with the online
video players has become another strategic factor worth considering.
Among other announcements and demonstrations at UCON '99, Macromedia
announced a new strategic relationship with RealNetworks to incorporate
its lastest version, Flash 4 into the RealPlayer G2. This extends
RealFlash which had stalled after Flash 2, so that RealFlash movies
will now support (among other things) transparencies and movie clips
(which are Flash movies-within-movies much like "comps" in Adobe
As a stand alone delivery option, Flash 4 now also supports and
compresses MP3 audio and provides improved synching of animation
and audio. With MP3, which one Macromedia product manager called
"the best overall audio codec on the web," Flash has become an even
more interesting alternative for some online multimedia productions.
(Flash also continues to output QuickTime as well. More on Flash
as a QuickTime tool below.)
A DIFFERENT KIND OF PLAYER
On the player side, Macromedia also announced a new Shockwave player
called Shockmachine. As most of you know, Macromedia"s flagship
product Director is used to author full-featured multimedia applications
that can include QuickTime movies. Director applications designed
for the web have long been supported by a relatively large playback
plug-in called Shockwave, but now Macromedia has taken another major
step by providing what it calls a "standardized virtual device"
more complex engine than any of the streaming media players, you
might think of Shockmachine
as somewhere between a TV/VCR remote control and a video game machine
-- but built completely out of software. Clearly entertainment-oriented,
Shockmachine includes both built-in VCR-type controls and a game
cartridge interface metaphor. It also includes the ability to save
pieces of content (like games in progress) and the freedom for developers
to customize Shockmachine"s "skin" with their own unique graphical
With an eye toward commercial viability for your Shockmachine productions,
in the future, this new virtual entertainment platform promises
to incorporate mini and micro e-commerce transactions (i.e. $.05
per play, per minute or whatever), subscription programs, and more.
If some of the other video software vendors don"t start making these
types of programs À including the necessary authoring tools À more
accessible, Macromedia could become a standard for offering online
video program subscriptions (beyond the more complex multimedia
programs like games and cartoons for which it is uniquely qualified).
Like RealPlayer Plus and QuickTime Pro, there is also a more souped-up
version of Shockmachine for sale; and like RealPlayer there"s both
search and programming channels built-in to support audience building
and online marketing programs
A NEW SITE & ANOTHER CEO
As if these components don"t make Macromedia"s entertainment
market focus as clear as a mountain stream in springtime, Shockmachine
is the focus of Macromedia"s new Shockwave.com web site and a new
Macromedia business unit with its own new entertainment industry
Underscoring the way that software companies are now getting into
what technology companies call "the content business," Shockwave.com
is described as "a new personal online entertainment center;" and
it will be headed by Disney alumni, Stephen Fields. In another demonstration
of how video and TV executives are converging on the new media frontier,
Fields joins shockwave.com from Disney Interactive where he was
senior vice president and general manager of Disney Software. Previously,
he headed original programming and marketing for the Disney Channel.
A NEW QUICKTIME TOOL
For video producers authoring QuickTime for the web, the most important
new Macromedia announcement may be Flash 4. By the time you read
this, Flash 4 should be available; and Flash 4 promises to be more
versatile than ever because it can or will be able to write to its
own ".swf" file format, to the RealFlash format, and to QuickTime.
With QuickTime 4, Flash 4 writes to the QuickTime vector layer enabling
low-bandwidth Flash vector animations to be super-imposed over QuickTime
movies. (Please see illustration.) While QuickTime components cannot
be incorporated into Flash (.swf) movies, Flash"s ease of use and
sophisticated animation capabilities immediately make Flash 4 one
of the most powerful tools for taking advantage of the QuickTime
Another important software announcement was the availability of
"G2 Objects" for Macromedia"s Dreamweaver popular web site authoring
tool. Once downloaded and installed in Dreamweaver"s Objects folder,
these code kernels makes it far easier to imbed RealMedia files
within web pages.
As If the real bottom line is business, then the Macromedia"s strategic
relationship with @Home is especially important. CEO Jemoluk went
out of his way to pitch the producers at UCON "99 for at least two
reasons. First, his system is best showcased by more bandwidth hungry
content; but more significantly, he knows that he needs sophisticated
producers (like Videography readers as well as Macromedia developers)
to produce content that can make a buck on his new network.
For this reason, @Home"s new strategic relationship with makes sense,
and it"s even more dynamic that you might suspect because it incorporates
applications from Enliven,
one of the web"s most impressive "rich media" advertising technologies.
("Rich media" means animation, video and audio.) In addition to
its more dynamic presentation capabilities, Enliven includes sophisticated
interactivity, e-commerce, tracking and reporting capabilities.
Enliven which officially became a wholly owned subsidiary of the
@Home Network in May claims a 70 percent market share of rich media
advertising on the web.
With a vision that"s also illustrated by the promised e-commerce
enhancements for Shockmachine, Macromedia seems to understand that
web media includes more that just video, multimedia or other forms
of "time-based media." More and more, Macromedia is morphing into
a very special kind of Internet software company.
As the video Web continues to become an increasingly important part
of the overall video business, it may well be software tools like
some of those demonstrated and promised by Macromedia that will
help to make the video Web commercially viable.