article

New Revenue Streams

Posted: 2/2003

New Revenue Streams
On-demand Rich Media Extends Conferencing Portfolio

By Stan Bielak

MOST OF US ARE FAMILIAR WITH AUDIO
and video streaming over the Internet. Combine them with graphics, presentations
and interactive features and you have streaming media or rich media.

The business application of
streaming media represents a complementary offering for companies already
selling traditional audio, video and even Web conferencing services. While it
can be done in real time, by archiving a streaming media "event," it
is possible to create on-demand multimedia presentations and interactive
sessions for training, sales and other applications.

Internet Research Group points to a
twenty-fold growth rate in streaming media services, projecting a $2.5 billion
market by 2004. A Forrester Research survey of 50 companies reveals 74 percent
consider streaming media an important communications tool for enhancing internal
communications, training and for improving collaboration with business partners.
More than half of them already are using or piloting Internet video
applications.

What is Streaming Media?

To understand streaming media, you
need to understand how the Web functions. Web servers are often described as
"stateless." That means the Web server takes a request for
information, pushes that information out as fast as it can and goes on to other
requests by other users. On the client side, the Web browser takes the
information it receives, assembles it on the screen, and then ignores the Web
server until you click on a hyperlink. In all, Web transactions between the
server and client are a quick exchange and a rapid parting.

This stateless approach works very
well for Web pages. But video and audio are problematic. Unlike graphics and
text, video and audio data include a time dimension and larger file sizes. Under
the stateless approach, a Web user would need to download the entire video clip
before it could be viewed — a lengthy wait. In contrast, streaming media
bypasses the need for a complete file download, feeding media to the user as it
is viewed. It’s more like a continuous connection similar to TV or radio, which
you receive as you watch or listen.

However, unlike your TV or radio,
the connection is limited to the speed of the network. So to get huge digital
audio and video files down to a size that works for playing over slower
connections, compression is used. That makes the data much smaller but results
in an image is that smaller and sometimes jerky or blurred.

In fact, the quality — while
continually improving — has been a concern for many media producers. But these
reservations are not usually shared by businesses that consider the true value
of the application to enable them to reduce the time and costs of doing
business.

What they are looking for is the
ability to easily produce and deploy content without requiring a multimedia
producer and the comfort that their content is delivered securely over the
Internet. They also want it to be worth doing — making it usable, reusable and
measurable.

Enter Archived Streaming Media

Archived streaming media
enables customers to create a bank of relevant resources for on-demand
applications, such as distance training, sales presentations and briefings to
large groups. It’s relatively simple to do and leverages available authoring
tools and multimedia equipment.

Customers can make a new
presentation (or edit an existing one), have users view it on demand and then
use real-time audio, video or Web conferencing for a discussion. Afterward, the
discussion can be archived and made available later for people who couldn’t
attend or for those who want to refresh their knowledge.

Additional features include the
incorporation of workbooks and slide presentations synchronized with the audio
and video presentations, or the ability to ask questions or respond to a poll.
While interactive features often are done during a live event as in the above
example, they also can be executed with an archived one. A poll, for instance,
can track incremental votes from all viewers over time, showing the viewer the
current result and how his answer compares. Or, in the case of a training
session, questions can be submitted to an instructor for reply within a preset
timeframe.

For users, a key feature is
indexing. Contents are listed by topic and searchable by key words.

For content providers, archived
events can be secured digitally so that contents are kept to authorized viewers.
At the same time usage — what events were viewed, when and for how long — can
be tracked to gauge the effectiveness of content programs.

Among the selling points for
on-demand streaming media are enabling:

  • Content owners to generate new
    revenue streams by protecting content from being pirated, monitoring usage,
    easily converting and updating content.

  • Content providers to reach
    larger audiences and save time. Content consumers — customers, prospects,
    employees, etc. — sometimes can’t attend a conference when you want them
    to, or they may not be interested in the entire conference. With indexing
    they can pinpoint and access the information they want.

  • Content owners to lower
    operating costs by reusing information for access on demand.

  • Content owners to improve
    quality of events by avoiding potential pitfalls of Internet and computer
    glitches during a one-time event.

In addition, it can be purchased on
a pay-as-you-go basis as is ezCast from eStreamingMedia Inc. ezCast is a
self-service subscription delivered on line. The initial setup fee includes a
server log on (for tracking and usage), a branded doorway page (that lists
ezCasts and enables people to quickly find ezCasts) and a serial number to
download and install the ezCast Producer. The monthly subscription fee is
typically based on the total duration of ezCasts, and not on usage. For example,
if a customer had eight ezCasts of 15 minutes duration each, they would be
billed for two hours.

Agents and resellers can generate
margins/commissions of up to 40 percent with ezCast. Resellers that private
brand the service also have the flexibility to change the fee structure to
include usage charges.

Stan Bielak is the president and
CTO of eStreamingMedia He can be reached at sbielak@estreamingmedia.com.

Close, But No Cigar

Like a lot of emerging Internet
technologies, the borders between collaboration technologies and service
providers aren’t always clear. Here are some that often are confused with
on-demand streaming media or offer only some of its functionalities:

Streaming Slide Shows.
Microsoft provides a capability to deliver streaming PowerPoint presentations
with synchronized video and audio. RealNetworks offers a similar product. And,
there are a number of third-party providers that offer services and provide some
refinement to these basic products. While streaming media slide shows are easy
to produce for very simple applications, they lack the features such as
integrated polling and quizzes, content indexing, tracking, screen video for
software training, etc.

Animation Authoring Tools.
Animation authoring tools include products such as Macromedia’s Flash and
Authorware. Think of authoring in the same way as you would think of a Microsoft
Office Suite (Word, Excel and PowerPoint). Word helps you to write documents,
Excel helps you to write financial spreadsheets and PowerPoint helps you to
create presentations. Most worthwhile animation authoring tools are high end —
not so much in price but in terms of expertise to use them. These products are
intended for the technical and creative types on big projects, such as
animations, video scene transitions, fades, etc. Most knowledge workers are
familiar with office suites, but they’re not at all comfortable with Web or
multimedia authoring because it’s too hard to do. Further, they lack polling,
indexing and tracking functions.

Streaming Media Servers.
Streaming media servers are a special breed of ISPs. Streaming media files
require special server software and bandwidth capacity. The basic technology
companies — Real Networks and Microsoft –provide the server software that the
ISP’s host. You can find most streaming media ISPs listed on Microsoft’s and
RealNetwork’s Web sites. At the most basic level, these ISPs compete on their
capabilities to deliver the bandwidth. Most streaming media ISPs focus on
large-scale productions and deployments, but most business applications tend to
have somewhat limited audiences and life spans.

Web Conferencing.
People often confuse Web conferencing and streaming media — two very different
technologies. It is typically used for small groups that want to collaborate in
real time with the ability to show slides or share software applications. Web
conferencing is a useful technology but it may not always make sense: People
aren’t always available; everyone has to connect at the same time; conferences
for large or geographically diverse groups can be hard to arrange; people can’t
get what they want when they want it; they have to sit through the whole
conference, etc.

There are several companies that
provide competitive Web conferencing tools. Some also provide an archiving
capability (i.e., recording conferences). In some cases this might be sufficient
if security isn’t an issue since it’s easy for someone to send link or publish a
password to an archive, or if usage tracking isn’t important, if polling and
assessments aren’t part of the conference and if fast lookup (i.e., keyword
search, etc.) isn’t required.

How to Make an ezCast

Creating an ezCast from
eStreamingMedia Inc. takes four steps:

  1. Organize and produce
    synchronized content as you normally would do for a training session or
    presentation. (e.g. create a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation or workbook
    or proposal in Microsoft Word). Polls and quizzes are added using the editor
    in the ezCast Producer.

  2. Create a new ezCast (or open an
    exiting one) using the ezCast Producer. Add descriptive information (i.e.,
    title, abstract and search terms) and then capture your multimedia content
    directly into the ezCast Producer. This is done using a Web cam, camcorder,
    VCR, microphone or audio/video files.

  3. Use the ezCast PowerPoint add-in
    feature to synchronize your content and index topics for quick user
    navigation.

  4. Save the ezCast and click to
    upload it to the ezCast server for deployment.

Success Strategies for SMBs

  1. SMBs must establish workflow
    process for the workgroups first, before adopting a Web collaboration
    application. Without creating a workflow structure, employees will find it
    difficult to use a Web collaborative application effectively. Business
    drives technology, not the other way around.

  2. SMBs piecing together their own
    Web collaboration solution should make the strategic decision of centrally
    managing business intelligence by adopting a Web collaboration application.
    This application allows businesses to manage information in one central
    repository. It’s much easier to keep track of business information, which
    also raises employee productivity.

  3. SMBs using Web collaboration
    applications must actively use the application to see the benefits of it and
    must be able to perform an ROI analysis for their investment. The value of
    Web collaborative applications is based on frequent usage, which drives
    business intelligence back to the business. Companies should implement a
    corporate policy mandating the use of the intranet/Web collaboration
    application.

Collaboration Toolbox

  • Web collaboration applications
    enable virtual environments that facilitate and centralize business workflow
    and real-time communication for the SMB.

  • Web collaborative tools enable
    businesses to either manage information or communicate in real time over the
    Internet.

  • Information management
    encompasses document management, version control, information sharing,
    collaborative working and more.

  • Real-time communications include
    Web conferencing and instant messaging.

 

Links
eStreamingMedia www.estreamingmedia.com

Forrester Research www.forrester.com

 


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