Editorial: A prettier picture - webcasting - Publication: Direct Art - Date: Fall 2001

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From music and arts through to the corporate arena,webcasting and teleconferencing is booming, and with the upswing of broadband and increased consumption of streaming media, this continued growth looks certain.

According to US based audience measurement firm Nielsen NetRatings, November 2000 saw more than one-third, or 36 percent, of the 95 million active U.S. Web surfers using streaming media, measuring a 28 percent increase over the previous year.

Further data from assorted industry analysts confirms the strength of the streaming technology. DataMonitor says video/audio streaming currently accounts for 2% of Internet traffic today and is projected to rise to 6% in 2003. The Gartner Group say more than 50% of all web sites will offer streaming media content by 2001 and Forrester Research join the chant with a projection that 34% of Internet users will have broadband access by 2002, up from 6% in 1999, translating to a potential broadband audience of 108 million users.
The International Webcasting Association estimate that 250 million users will view webcasts annually by 2002, with reports showing that the market for streaming media content will grow from US$78 million in 2000 to US$2.5 billion by 2004, a growth of 3200%

In the US, large media events such as the presidential election, the Super Bowl and the Olympics – previously limited to TV and radio have primarily spurred this 65 percent increase to almost 35 million people accessing streaming-media content from 21 million.

Nielsen claims the growth in streaming-media consumers has been largely propelled by women. Although there are still more male streaming-media users that female – 19 million men vs. 16 million women in November – the number of women using streaming media grew 77 percent in a year, up from 9 million in November 1999. Similarly, the number of kids and teens accessing streaming media in November surged 65 percent year-over-year, and usage by seniors over the age of 65 increased by 95 percent

At the recent US conference, Streaming Media West 2000, held on December 13, 2000, Yahoo’s Chief and Co-Founder Jerry Yang reinforced the value of streaming technology and webcasting ." broadband is here today, it is here now," he declared. Meanwhile,Yahoo! and Disney have struck up a broadband relationship, seeing Yahoo! News webcast video from ABC News, World News Tonight and Good Morning America. There have also been a series of one-time events, including the strange combination of Yahoo! and Swatch teaming up to beam out a fashion show of watch-wearing models from the Great Wall of China.

Down on the farm there have been a host of webcast offerings. SpikeRadio have had a varied reputation over the years, though their lengthy webcasting experience is undisputable, with SpikeRadio now offering 10 streams of music targeted at a global youth audience and assorted online audio and video services.

Current technology providing a platform for Australian broadband includes cable modems and DSL lines, with cable having an advantage on DSL due to its existing infrastructure. Many would argue that the Internet is too small a pipeline to handle the demands of TV-like video, despite the ambitious approach of Asynchronous Transfer Mode and frame-relay WANs. Future mechanisms showing promise for delivery include wireless WAN technology, heavily dependent on throughput and even laser beams used as carriers, technology currently being developed by Terabeam Networks and Lucent Technologies.

H.323 is another worldwide key standard currently emerging that hopes to ensure conference-capable desktops will talk to one another. The technology tells any IP device (including network routers and gateways) how to compress and transmit audio and video over a network not designed for it.

.According to Nick Abrahams, head of LA based Spikeradio, key technologies behind today’s webcast miracles include Dynamic Visual Media, a desktop player using Flash animation, Interactive Webcast Applications, enabling user participation via real-time polls and online submissions and chats and Digital Lockers that enable songs from digital libraries to be streamed to assorted devices.

Asked about his predictions for future webcasting, Abrahams cited interactivity as being the key. "The return path made available by the Internet gives users an ability to buy, chat and interact with the subjects of the webcast and with other audience members. For example, the audience can now interact with the players and coaches in sporting matches. The real killer app will be when the user can give friendly advice directly to the referee".

Abrahams said audio will continue to dominate until broadband attains sufficient penetration. "The establishment of the new MPEG-4 compression standard will also mean users will be able to play any format audio/video file with a single player, bringing many video related services to the market".

"Legalization will also create opportunity, " Abrahams added. "The Copyright Office just ordered that terrestrial broadcasters must pay royalties when they put their streams out over the web, whereas they do not have to pay royalties for music broadcast terrestrially. Those companies with legitimate business plans will survive and will no longer have to compete with companies stealing other people’s copyright".

Collaborating and conferencing online is now becoming a priority for businesses rather than a luxury, though it was not too long ago that it was too expensive and too complicated for the ordinary user to pursue the art of broadcasting live on the Internet. Webconferencing promises steamlined communications and improved collaboration. Areas such as online shopping have been revolutionised with the transformation of GIF images into full-motion, full-screen video clips.

Yesterday’s workhorse teleconferencing systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars, used Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines. That picture started to change three or four years ago with the dawn of the Web and the spread of its Internet Protocol (IP).

Today’s cheap and effective web conferencing and collaboration tools enable the technology with only an Internet connection. Today most companies have an internal IP network that can run an emerging class of low-cost IP cameras, video cards and software, with the majority of them containing vital components such as videoconferencing, application, desktop sharing, chat, whiteboarding, and file transfer

According to John Mitchell, head of Sydney based teleconferencing consultancy John Mitchell and Associates, the big budget approach is an illusion and a potential problem when it comes to teleconferencing. "Businesses often make the mistake of failing to undertake adequate needs analysis and in turn understand their real needs. I am often cautioning clients about failing to properly surmise their needs before they puchase equipment. Expensive, high end equipment isn’t a necessity in order to achieve competent results. The newest generation of equipment has radically stirred up the videoconferencing industry as a whole, with strong technology available without the need for major investment".

Written by Craig Stephens

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