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Streaming Media

Streaming Media
Volume 1, Issue 5
February 2001

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Streaming media is the latest techno beast to be tamed online and if recent stats are any indication it may well surpass television as the media of choice.

The majority of streaming content last year was created by major news organizations like CNN and MSNBC. Video clips of important events such as the Florida recount vote drew unprecedented amounts of traffic.

InternetNews recently quoted T.S. Kelly, director of Internet Media Strategies at Net Ratings as saying that, "Streaming consumption is closely linked to huge media events.... Events such as the Super Bowl, Olympics and Election 2000 significantly contributed to the increased use of streamed audio and video content."

Patricia Jacobus of CNET wrote in January that an industry report by DB&P/ Webcast Track revealed that the presidential election controversy, music videos and the reality TV show "Survivor" helped to boost streaming media on the Internet 215 percent last year.

The World Wide Wrestling Federation and the music video site Launch, each accounted for about 7 million streams of video a month, she further reported.

InternetNews reported that a Nielsen//NetRatings study revealed that November streaming media consumption was at an all-time high, with 35 million at home Web users accessing streaming content in comparison to 21 million during the same month in 1999.

Media streaming has also been very popular for watching sporting events. Cecily Barnes of CNET wrote in January that a partnership between Major League Baseball Advanced Media, and Virage software will not only allow video to be streamed online but you will also be able to search for specific clips as well.

Barnes reported that by indexing most of the 2001 baseball season on, fans will be able to call up a home run by Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds, rather than having to watch precut clips posted by news organizations.

It is this type of flexibility that gives media streaming advantages over television broadcasts.

John Townley recently reported that Nielsen//NetRatings data showed that nearly 33 million individuals surfing from home and about 17 million surfing from work accessed some form of rich-media content in September.

He wrote, "Considering the overall reliability of office networks and their higher speeds and instant access, it is clear why sites such as ON24, Bloomberg News, and Yahoo!... have catered to the high-speed group in the workplace."

Townley further wrote that, 56 percent of all active workplace consumers of streaming media go online Friday to watch things like movie trailers, weekend performance results from Wall Street and live weather forecasts.

Watching movie trailers is one of the more popular uses for streaming media. By going to one of the movie sites and clicking on the trailer you get the preview of the film you are thinking about seeing.

Rather than downloading the movie or music you just play it via the Internet through media streaming. This saves a lot of downloading time and space on your hard drive. As anyone who had done any downloading of music or video files knows, the files are large and take a long time to download. Media steaming provides instant playing.

If you don't have a high speed Internet connection, then media streaming is probably not something you will want to access. This is because streaming media requires lots of bandwidth and only those individuals with high speed broadband connections can access it properly. Without the latest technology the experience can be frustrating.

On the other hand you may want to pay attention for future reference because like everything on the Internet the future is already past.

In order to play streaming files you need to download a player. The three most popular players, which are all free online, are RealNetworks' RealPlayer, Apple's QuickTime or Microsoft's Media Player.

Patricia Jacobus of CNET wrote in January that according to a Jupiter Media Metrix report, RealNetworks had maintained an edge over rival Microsoft in media streaming technology. "In November, about 28 percent of consumers who use computers in U.S. homes chose RealNetworks' RealPlayer to watch videos or listen to music online. That same month, 22 percent used Microsoft's Windows Media Player 6 or 7. Apple's QuickTime was used by 4 percent," she reported.

Webcasts have been used by some of the key players to show off their streaming technology. Gwendolyn Mariano of CNET reported in November that Microsoft's Webcast of Madonna's London concert had been intended to showcase the company's multimedia technology, but had left many virtual fans unimpressed. It drew 9 million logons, she reported.

The media stream was delivered at 700 kbps for people with extremely fast Internet connections and at 300, 128, 80 and 56 kbps for people with slower connections. An audio only stream was also delivered at 28.8-kbps streams so that people with slow connections could hear the concert.

Mariano further reported that RealNetworks has also been involved in several high-profile streaming events, including the Webcast of Victoria's Secret fashion show and an Internet broadcast of the TV show "Big Brother."

David Lake of the Industry Standard reported in September that an estimated 2 million people tuned in for the 15-minute May Internet broadcast of Victoria's Secret models strutting lingerie in the Paris fashion show.

In a November article for InternetNews John Townley reported that in a study conducted by MeasureCast, Inc./Harris Interactive 67 percent of the online population is familiar with streaming media. Of that percentage, men at 76 percent were more familiar than women at 58 percent.

Seventy one percent of people with household incomes of $50,000 or higher is familiar with streaming in comparison to only 65 per cent of people with household incomes of less than $50,000.

It was also reported that people with high-speed connections to the Web, which was calculated to be 11.2 million home users in November 2000, were more likely to consume streaming media. For instance, active users with a broadband connection of over 56 Kbps were 50 percent more likely to access streaming media than their dial-up counterparts at 56 Kbps and below.

According to Mark A. Mowrey in an article in the Industry Standard in September, Jupiter Communications predicts that 23 percent of homes with Internet access, or 15 million households, will surf via broadband connections in 2003. IDC offers an even higher estimate: 21 million, accounting for 32 percent of online homes."

T.W. Rabbit of PCWORLD reported in October that a study released through the National Association of Broadcasters revealed that " the average American home (without a broadband Internet connection), a resident typically spends 33 percent$of his or her "media time" with television, followed by radio at 28 percent; the Internet trails at 11 percent.

But in a home with broadband access, the study finds, a person typically spends 21 percent of her or his "media time" online, close to the 24 percent of the time spent watching television and 21 percent listening to radio."

This correlation indicates that as Internet users with broadband connections increase less time will be spent in front of the television and more time on the Internet.

The difference between Internet media streaming and television broadcasting is that eventually there will be unlimited choice online. Instead of shows being scheduled at specific times like they are on television, the choice for online files will be unlimited offering availability at any time of the day or night.

At this time however, media streaming has its limitations. For instance watching features films via media streaming is still a long ways off.

In December Patricia Jacobus of CNET quoted Jim Penhune director of media and entertainment strategies at The Yankee Group as saying, "Forget five-minute animated shorts or two-minute music videos...We're talking about a two-hour movie and getting the thing through the network and onto the set-top box or onto the computer... distributing feature films online is still years away," he said.

Gartner Analyst Lou Latham predicted in CNET in December that true TV-quality video won't arrive on the Web for three to five years. He said that even by 2004, fewer than half of all households in the United States will have broadband connections and without broadband, the video will be of poor quality.

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Streaming Media

Latham also sites traditional network architecture as being "poorly adapted to the transmission of streaming media, which requires that all elements of the transmission be sent and received at exactly the same rate--unlike ordinary data, which is transmitted in packets.

Network congestion, and arcane technical problems such as packet collision and packet loss, cause serious degradation in picture and sound quality long before the data stream reaches the desktop.

Many providers of network products, including Cisco Systems and Akamai, are working to make the network environment more hospitable to video streams. Another promising development is RealSystem iQ, which aims to reduce network congestion by decentralizing the data stream."

Jacobus reported that Sony Pictures Entertainment had created about 50 streaming media jobs to position itself for delivering entertainment over the Internet. Lisa Delucia, spokeswoman for Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment was quoted as saying, "We're trying to circumvent what we call 'getting Napsterized.'" This is in reference to, the song file swapping service that caught the music industry by surprise when MP3 technology hit the Internet. It should be noted, however, that Napster lost an important court case earlier this month that could potentially see the service shut down.

Jacobus further reported that Sony Pictures and other major Hollywood studios, such as Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures, were also trying to avoid the pitfalls that occurred in the music industry with MP3 technology.

The effect of MPEG-4 files for film is projected to have the same impact on the motion picture industry as what MP3 had on the music industry.

According to Erica Rowell in a Standard Issue article in September, MPEG-4 has built-in methods of surviving data loss. She quoted Rob Koenen, a researcher for Dutch telecommunications firm KPN, based in Leidschendam, who has chaired the MPEG requirements group since 1996.

Koenen said, "If you lose a bit in the video stream in MPEG-4, [there are] synch markers or resynch markers so you can pick it up again... We now think of multimedia content as a [combination] of many objects - objects generated by computer or captured by a camera, which can have different shapes, not just rectangular...natural sound and computer-generated music and ... speech."

Koenen further indicated that the advertising potential of this type of video is enormous. Because everything is broken up into individual sections the viewer can itemize different images. If they see a piece of furniture they like in a video clip they can click on it and bring up a menu, which would allow them to order the couch or to do things like change its color.

Rowell reports that MPEG-4's object-orientation is its most significant feature because it ends up taxing the system less and as a result creates fewer Net traffic jams.

"For instance, a video clip could consist of a background image, an actor, some dialogue and some music. In streaming the clip, only parts of it - such as the actor's action and dialogue- would need to be sent in real-time. More asynchronous parts like the background and music score could be delivered earlier and would sit at the user end, appearing as static on the screen or waiting for a cue to play," Rowell reported.

In an article in the Industry Standard in December, Margret Johnston reported that Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Kasenna, Philips Electronics and Sun Microsystems announced the founding of the Internet Streaming Media Alliance. The group joined forces to promote open standards for developing end-to-end media streaming solutions over the Internet.

William J. Raduchel, chief technology officer of America Online was reported as saying that streaming will be realized only if there is a single standard for consumers, service providers, network operators, equipment suppliers and content providers.

The first challenge of the group was to define an implementation agreement for streaming MPEG-4 video and audio format over IP networks. The first formal meeting is being held this month.

Media streaming is an expensive technology to implement and by creating common standards it should make it a more affordable and favorable venture to pursue.

Mowrey reported that the cost to deliver media streaming makes it difficult to turn a profit. A three-minute 300Kbps videostream with a 20-second ad attached to it might cost a content provider $75 per thousand views to deliver and that the revenue sites can earn from selling ad space might not be enough to cover costs.

ISPs also suffer because bandwidth usage increases with heavy streaming of audio and video file downloads, he said.

Michael J. Martinez reported on ABCNEWS that high quality video was streamed over Internet2 in October at a rate of 270 megabits per seconds, which is 4,937 times the capacity of an average 56K modem and 6.7 times more data than a digital satellite transmission handles. Internet2 is known as the high speed, next generation network. It links 163 member universities and dozens of corporate researchers across the United States.

The video was streamed from Stanford University, over California's research network, through Internet2, through Washington state's network and finally to the University of Washington.

"One of the biggest challenges facing researchers, according to Internet2 spokesman Greg Wood, is to increase the bandwidth available on the research network or to figure out a way for multiple users to take advantage of a single stream.

`If we make the network smarter and replicate the streams intelligently through the network, we could send one stream to thousands of people and save a lot of bandwidth, '" Martinez reported Wood as saying.

Gwendolyn Mariano of CNET reported in January that Juno Online Services is to offer its high-speed Internet subscribers streamed software applications through a deal with Into Networks. Streaming software enables PC users to access files stored remotely on a server. Subscribers are to have fee-based, on-demand access to software, including education, games and business titles such as Lotus Organizer, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Monopoly, and the "Complete Idiot's Guide to Marketing Materials."

She reported that the Internet service provider was the latest company to enter the streaming software market, after Excite@Home's announcement in November that it would offer a broadband software application service.

Mariano also reported in January that NBC Internet had teamed with streaming video messaging company iClips to provide customers access to streaming tools so they could send video e-mails or post videos on a Web site.

By using the tools customers are able to create, send, store and share streaming video messages without being burdened by huge files. Recipients also didn't have to bother with long download times for viewing video e-mail messages.

In an article on the Seoul, Korea, Webcast Conference Winter 2000, Townley reported that this year multinational corporations are projected to take a "Grand Leap" into streaming. Gayle Essary, president of the non-profit Streaming Media Alliance, who gave the keynote speech at the event, was quoted in the article.

"`...Extrapolate this developing data to a fully-wired U.S., and then further factor in the sheer size of parts of the world without TV, and you can quickly calculate that streaming entertainment, information and data may someday reduce TV viewing to a sliver of its present import.' Essary pointed out that while there are presently 332.7 million Internet users worldwide, with North America accounting for almost half of that, by 2025, 60 percent of the world's projected population of 8 Billion will be in Asia alone, "and they will all be streaming."

Judging from what the experts are predicting at this time, the question doesn't seem to be whether streaming media will conquer television, but rather how it will be done and when.


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