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byJon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, January 2000
Page 1 of 2

I feel confident in saying that the year 2000 will be a breakthrough year for the video Web. I don't mean that the world of online video will fully "come of age" this year, but there is little question in my mind that this new video platform will soon establish itself as an even more vibrant, viable and strategically significant component of everyone's ever-morphing Net experience.

This opinion was underscored by the intensity of December's Streaming Media West conference and exhibition in San Jose. First off, 1999's Streaming Media West show was roughly ten times the size of the previous year's inaugural event. Secondly, December's event was blessed by the "pope of high-tech," non other than Mr. Bill Gates, who gave the opening keynote address.

Perhaps partially as a result of Mr. Gates presence, the show was a veritable frenzy of activity involving Internet start-ups as well as established video vendors. A virtual barrage of announcements melded online video programming developments with new hardware and software releases and an amazing array of new service offerings that will make webcasting easier and more accessible for everyone from high-end entertainers to entry-level video enthusiasts.

This month's feature-length Video Web column is an overview of the state of the streaming industry, and I will use some of the announcements and business developments that were revealed at the Streaming Media West show to illustrate the trends that are transforming this still emerging industry.

MR. GATES' OPENING ACT
As Mr. Gates emphasized in his Streaming Media keynote, he and the other players are putting the pieces in place for your video Web productions to reach a target audience "anywhere, anytime and on any device." Detailed descriptions of the array of new set top boxes, portable electronic devices and easy to use networkable cameras would require an article of its own. (For more on this, please see December, 1999's Video Web column, "New Camera ‘Gadgets' Network and Edit.") Mr. Gates' prime example was video playing on a palm top Casio Windows CE device.

It's hard to believe that an "industry" that's only four years old (the world of streaming media) can be growing so fast. Yahoo Broadcast.com founder and CEO, Mark Cuban, whose keynote immediately followed Gates, quipped: "After only four years in the streaming business, who would have thought that I would have Bill Gates for my opening act?" Cuban also pointed out that there is already more video currently available -- more titles, more segments, more video everything -- on the web than in the biggest Blockbuster store. Bottom line, just as people are fond of saying that "the Internet is changing everything," with the increasing accessibility of broadband connections, the world of video communication and distribution is being unquestionably and irrevocably altered. And "we ain't seen nothing yet."

According to a press release from Play Inc. announcing its new PSMG Affiliate Program (see below), "With 137 million homes broadband ready, analysts from Paul Kagen Associates forecast that the market for Internet broadcasting . . . will be just shy of $20 billion by 2008." PSMG's VP of business development, Stephan Bouchard adds, "The potential for content creators and advertisers is staggering."

BIGGER BANDWIDTH
Perhaps the biggest component of the video Web's growth is the rapid deployment of broadband Internet connections in offices and in homes by every conceivable from of telecommunications and cable company -- and with wireless broadband just around the corner.

Streaming service provider InterVU's marketing VP, Stephen Condon told me that just a year ago, none of their webcasts offered a high-bandwidth stream. Now, not only do they offer 300Kbps streams as a matter of course, but they are also finding that the broadband versions of their streams have become the preferred data rate. Condon said that a majority of users who are accessing events hosted by InterVU are requesting at least the 100Kbps stream. This is a result of not only the growing proliferation of cable modems and DSL connections, but also the number of users who are accessing webcasts via corporate and university networks.

Clearly, the continued enhancements to the streaming world's network infrastructure (which Gates referred to as "provisioning networks in a rich way") will take years to complete. In the meantime, an increasing number of service providers including Yahoo Broadcast.com, the Real Broadcast Network, InterVU, iCast, Akamai and many others are providing increasingly massive hosting capabilities for large scale webcasters who are attempting to reach relatively mass audiences.

In this dimension of the video Web's explosion, the debate over distributed unicast networks vs. multicasting, live vs. on-demand, more choices and variable levels of service, will continue. I offered a preliminary overview of some of these issues in my article on the QuickTime TV launch (see "The Pomp & Promise of QuickTime TV," Videography, September 1999) including a "second opinion" from Yahoo Broadcast.com's Mark Cuban.

Bottom line, remember that the web is extremely multi-faceted, and that it should never be thought of as "one thing." This may be even truer for the world of webcasting.

THE VIRTUAL BIG TOP
Last year foreshadowed this year's entertainment developments with the massive distribution of the Star Wars QuickTime trailer, keyword accessible archives of Clinton's Monica testimony, and the Victoria's Secret Super Bowl promotion and webcast.

MeTV.comNow, MeTV.com is proving that the video Web is ready for prime time by gearing up to launch the first streaming, pay-per-view movie service targeted to broadband Internet customers. Currently a limited sampling of movies is available on a preview basis, but the service promises that 750 feature titles will be available when they do their consumer launch this Spring.

And more big-name entertainment players are working in the wings, getting ready to make their entrance during the next year (or so). As already demonstrated by Atomfilms.com, most free webcast content will be short-form. This is also reflected in the plans of the Dreamworks SKG/Imagine Entertainment and their start-up entertainment site, Pop.com, as well as by the Warner Brothers e-enterprise, Entertaindom.com, among others.

The same is true for South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker who recently got the ultimate in webcast compensation when they received an equity position (stock) in an Internet start-up. The South Parkians are slated to develop a series of 39 short cartoons exclusively for Macromedia's shockwave.com entertainment site (see "Macromedia Innovates Web Media," Videography, July 1999).

The importance of being able to search for "the news you want, when you want it" was most dramatically demonstrated last year by Virage and AltaVista during the Clinton impeachment trials. This approach was further validated by Reuters who used the Streaming Media West show to announce a $20 million dollar equity stake in Virage, the Web-oriented video search and video indexing software company.

In my opinion, all of this content development and acquisition activity is just the start of something big, WAY big. Big enough to make Barnum and Bailey blush.

The Streaming State of the Video Web continues on the Next Page >>


Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at jon@combridges.com
     
   
 
 
 
   
 
 

 

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