Jose Alvear is author of the book “Web Developer.com Guide to Streaming Multimedia” (April 1998, Wiley Computer Books), and writes extensively on multimedia, video, audio and videoconferencing. In part two of our special report on streaming media, Alvear shares his observations about recent developments in the streaming media industry, as they relate to the evolution of the enterprise, with Intranet Journal Content Producer Adnan Ashraf.
Intranet Journal: Do you agree with RealNetworks’ CEO Rob Glaser when he suggests that television is going to migrate to the Web?
“If I want to watch Clinton’s videotaped testimony, odds are I will choose TV over my computer. However, if I want to watch a video on my own schedule or need some obscure piece of video perhaps the Web might be a better choice.”
Jose Alvear: Yes, once consumers get access to high-bandwidth solutions like cable and ADSL, we can finally get rid of all those hokey 28.8K and 56K modems. Right now, bandwidth is the biggest problem facing companies and it is preventing many more companies from putting more streaming content on the Web. Although there’s a lot of content available right now, companies are still staying away. After all, how would you like to watch a half-hour sitcom on your computer monitor? How about a two-hour movie? Watching a 4-inch window at 10 frames per second gets tired very quickly, that’s why most videos online are just a few minutes long. If I want to watch Clinton’s videotaped testimony, odds are I will choose TV over my computer. However, if I want to watch a video on my own schedule or need some obscure piece of video perhaps the Web might be a better choice. For example, when I want to watch a music video for a particular artist I don’t flip on MTV and wait for it to show. Instead I turn to Streamland.com or another music site that has the video I want to see.
In the far future, I envision watching MicrosoftTV or perhaps The RealVideo Channel on my TV in full screen, full-motion glory, but I don’t see that happening very soon. I also predict that today’s streaming media technology will be the ancestors to on-demand movies and Interactive TV. But I won’t hold my breath.
IJ: If in the near future, TV stations migrate their programming to the Web, what role will a company like Activate or Globix play?
JA: I’m not too familiar with Globix in terms of streaming media, but as an access provider they will be very important. Content developers and site administrators will need extra bandwidth to carry the large load of audio and video. Also any provider working with IP multicasting will also play a major role. I firmly believe that we’ll be seeing multicasting over the Internet that will deliver TV-like scheduled programming in the not-too-distant future.
Activate (and other streaming media developers and aggregators like Broadcast.com) will be the ones that push streaming media to the next level. Companies will have to handle the encoding, networking, servers, and media delivery themselves or hire outside help to do it for them. In the short-term, companies will flock to companies like Activate or Broadcast or Encoding.com, but I think networks and TV stations will eventually catch up and do their own streaming delivery themselves.
“Eventually, video networks will be very commonplace for businesses, and we’ll all wonder how we got along without them.”
IJ: Do you foresee streaming media becoming de rigeur in the context of corporate operations?
JA: It’s too early to tell how many corporations are using streaming media on their LANs, but already many are putting their bandwidth to good use. Right now the biggest application for streaming media in a corporate intranet or WAN is training. Companies see a great benefit in not having to fly employees to one location for training. Employees can just sit on their desks and have live instruction or on-demand access to training videos. Besides training, other applications include news delivery, watching company addresses and meetings, video monitoring applications, and more.
Eventually, video networks will be very commonplace for businesses, and we’ll all wonder how we got along without them. For now, many companies don’t even have streaming video on their scopes.
IJ: What criteria do companies need to address in order to determine whether or not they should seriously look into streaming media?
JA: There are many criteria. Something companies should ask themselves very early on is the content question: What do we want to deliver? Streaming audio? Video? This naturally leads to other questions: Who is our audience? Will it be delivered over the Web or an intranet? After all, streaming media should be used to enhance the message to customers and visitors, not just to spruce up a drab Web page. As such, anyone already using video in some context should seriously consider using streaming media. If they’re already using regular downloadable media, streaming media should definitely be in their plans. No one likes to wait to download audio or video. A middle of the road solution is to use both streaming and downloadable media on the site to cater to all visitors.
Other than that, when looking for a streaming media solution, developers should look into multicast-enabled systems, bandwidth, hardware compatibility, streaming administration tools, live and/or on-demand capability and price.
The Internet market has pretty much broken down to RealNetworks and Microsoft. And after brokering major deals with Lotus, Intel, America Online and Netscape, RealNetworks seems to be an early winner. And since the RealPlayer is the de facto standard player for streaming audio and video, Web developers can’t go wrong with RealNetworks.
IJ: What is multicasting and how does it work?
JA: Multicasting is what I call a bandwidth conservation technology. Nice buzzword, but it really means that it is supposed to save bandwidth. In the traditional streaming model called unicasting, one stream of data is sent to each client. As the number of simultaneous users request that same data, this naturally puts a strain on your network bandwidth. Each user gets their own data stream. With Multicasting, just one stream is sent from the video server. The stream is then multiplied via a router to all the clients who are “tuning in” to the event. Thus, just one stream of data can be delivered to hundreds or thousands of users. Of course this works best on scheduled information or live events since users have to tune in and request the data. That’s multicasting in a nutshell. More technical info can be found at www.ipmulticast.com
IJ: What is your position on G2 technology versus Windows MediaPlayer?
JA: Personally, I think the Real System is in a better position. Witness their latest deals with Lotus, Netscape and Intel. RealNetworks has a dominant position in content and player usage. The RealPlayer is one of the most used Windows applications, according to one study. That will be hard to defeat. It seems that Microsoft may actually lose this battle, but of course the war is far from over. Especially considering how MS is trying to re-invent NetShow/MediaPlayer and all the revelations coming from the MS anti-trust case. Real G2 is much more cutting edge (SMIL, RealText, RealFlash, etc. are obvious examples) and more robust than MS’s solution, but you can never underestimate MS’s free servers.
IJ: Can you give me an example of corporations that have experienced substantial ROI by streaming media in the enterprise? Ira Machefsky [an IT analyst with Giga Information Group] says because of bandwidth, self-paced training and video-conferencing are the best emergent applications of streaming media in the enterprise. Care to comment?
JA: People I’ve talked to using streaming media say there are using it for training. Unfortunately no one has ever said anything about ROI, so I can’t give you an example. I would imagine that the cost savings involve travel (hotel, plane) time and better learning. Streaming media won’t work miracles but it can save a company lots of money with a relatively modest investment.