With the rollout of enterprise-class instant messaging by the likes of AOL, MSN and Yahoo! still in its infancy, video-IM has yet to even hit the radar of most corporations.
In fact, at this point in the IM game, about 25% of the 12 million or so business users have simply added the free versions of IM to their desktops to stay in touch with colleagues, family and friends.
This because Lotus Sametime, IBM’s enterprise IM product that’s been on the market for the last five years, accounts for the other 8 million, according to Stephen Londergan, IBM’s competitive marketing manager. With roughly 73% of the corporate IM market, Sametime has offered an audio/video component since its release, although only a “minority” of users actually utilize the A/V aspects of the solution.
“In practice, people probably don’t use it as much,” says Londergan. “It’s also the kind of thing where people try it and then they find that in most of the collaborative situations they don’t really need to see the person speaking.”
There are also some small players making a go of the service. PalTalk, Jabber and Avistar are three companies offering the service, although penetration into the corporate space is limited at best, says Robert Mahowald, a practice manager with Collaborative Computing, at IDC.
“Really what were finding, especially in the past couple of years, is that there has to be a very specific business problem to solve or its just going to be a non-starter,” he says. “It’s one of those bells-and-whistle things, like unified messaging and a couple of other things, that are really great but don’t really solve a specific business problem.”
At PalTalk, founder Jason Katz, says the five-year-old firm has only two corporate customers for its client/server VIM service, which also includes audio. Most of his 5 million subscribers are personal users with some small businesses thrown in.
Little Business Demand
Even at $50 a year for a six-frames-per-second feed, VIM just isn’t something business customers are asking for. The company’s virtual conference rooms that can accommodate up to 500 simultaneous users, however, have fared better with 300 business subscribers.
“I think the corporate world is sort of moving in that direction,” says Katz. “If the last five years have been the years of the consumer, I’d say the next five years are probably more directed to businesses.”
Tom Heger, a senior account representative at Saturn Business Systems, an IBM premier business partner that sets up corporate networks, including PalTalk’s IM servers, says he has had zero interest from clients regarding VIM. However, at some point, he would like to begin offering services around the solution since he believes it to be up and coming.
“It’s ultimately something I would like to do but… no, people are not coming to us saying ‘Hey, I need VIM'” he says. “I think it’s really the next thing.”
Part of the problem is need and the other part is bandwidth, says IBM’s Londergan. Business customers just don’t really need a video component to their IM but, even it they did, often times bandwidth restrictions within the corporate firewall limit its use.
“The biggest barrier so far has been network infrastructure,” he adds. “As people get better pipes… the IT department might be likely to support it.”
The consumer market is where VIM will most likely take hold first, and then, like text IM, move into the corporate world, says The Yankee Group’s Paul Ritter.
“It’s still very early on in the game and MSN Messenger 6 is more tuned for enabling video but it’s still, even in the consumer space, not ubiquitous,” says Ritter, a program manager with Internet Business Strategies. “It’s catching on, obviously, more in the consumer market than in the enterprise space.”
In fact, Yahoo!, which rolled out its corporate offering in June, isn’t even considering a video component. The company is still too busy figuring out how to make its text offering a compelling enterprise solution, a spokesperson says. And AOL simply enables its consumer IM product with back-end control functionality for corporate customers.
Although, for AOL’s version 9, the company has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to allow it to include a streaming media component, according to Derrick Mains, an AOL spokesperson. But this is really a stab at attracting consumers, not corporations.