Streaming Media

 

Editor's Note: The More Things Change...

I’ve just returned from Streaming Media Europe 2006 in London, where a good deal of the discussion among the 640 attendees and 21 exhibitors was how different it was from Streaming Media Europe 2000.

That show was also in London, but that’s where the similarities end. The 2000 event was held at the Earl’s Court Centre and attracted ten times as many attendees as this year’s event. The 2001 show didn’t attract nearly as many, but that was as much a barometer of the trade-show biz in general—it was held six weeks after 9/11, when business travel was down across the board—as it was an indicator of declining interest in the technology.

We all know what happened next. The majority of the exhibitors at those London shows were out of business within a couple of years. It’s been a long comeback trail for the industry, both in Europe and in the United States, and this was the first Streaming Media Europe in five years. But everyone at the London show agreed on one thing: We’d much rather have a smaller show—and, if we can toot our own horn a bit, 640 attendees is pretty darned respectable for what was more or less an inaugural event (it was the first one put on by Information Today, Inc., which also owns StreamingMedia.com and this magazine)—than the bloated, overblown sound and fury that signified little more than high-tech promises that would go unfulfilled.

Or, to quote James Brown instead of the Bard, a lot of streaming media’s advocates back then were talking loud and saying nothing. The technological vision was there, but the broadband penetration to make it happen and the business models to make it profitable were missing. While the number of attendees was lower than five years ago, they were a lot smarter: The first question at the opening keynote wasn’t about technology but ROI.

When the vendors gathered in the hotel lounge at the end of the day, they still wanted to talk about how cool their technology was. One vendor dazzled me with a new proprietary codec, showing off video so crystal-clear that it actually made watching it on a cell phone seem like something people might pay to do. He even went on to tell me about a big-name telecom the company is working with to get this video out there to the masses.

Then he uttered the phrase that every journalist dreads (even if good ones respect it): "You know that’s all off the record, right?" Of course it is, I thought. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s a phrase I hear at least twice a week. Sometimes the kibosh comes from the technology vendors themselves, but more often it comes from their customers.

Usually, I hear it when I’m looking for case studies that vividly demonstrate how all of this wonderful technology is put to use, whether in the enterprise or entertainment space. Very few large organizations are willing to share what they’re doing or how they’re doing it, either for fear that they’ll give their competition an edge or because the vendors they’re working with made them sign non-disclosure agreements. The latter is truly mind-boggling to me, because the only logical conclusion one can draw from it is that those vendors fear that their own technologies won’t survive public scrutiny.

That’s why I was so thrilled when the folks at Creative Tank in London contacted me in September about writing an article about the webcasting of every show on The Who’s world tour. Concert webcasts are old hat, but this was something different. This was the first time a major rock act planned a live webcast of every show of its European tour. It was a massive undertaking, and not without its technical glitches, all of which Creative Tank was willing to discuss. Unfortunately, the project fell apart before the tour came to the United States, for reasons having to do with the business model and rights ownership. You can read the whole story, which begins on page 18.

Well, almost the whole story. Along the way, I got some particularly enlightening information having to do with video formats, vendors, and financing, the kind of stuff that would have made an already very good case study a great one. No sooner had I started adding that to the text from Creative Tank than I got the dreaded follow-up email: "You know that’s all off the record, right?"

From where I sit, nobody’s business would have fallen apart, and nobody’s technology would have been exposed as smoke and mirrors. Readers, however, could have benefited from some valuable lessons, the kinds of lessons that can move the entire industry forward. Maybe that’s just too idealistic.