Streaming Media

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Publisher's Note: The Phoenix
The rise and fall and rise of streaming media

When I first started in this industry back in the 1990s helping radio stations and record labels get online, I’d get a lot of blank stares when I told people that music was streaming over the internet. It wasn’t long after, though, that the term "streaming media" became a buzzword and everyone rushed to make their millions.

Soon I came on board with Streaming magazine (published by Streamline Media, not to be confused with Streaming Media), which focused entirely on streaming audio and video. What a ride. New companies with the promise of delivering video to cell phones, television programming over IP networks and the internet, and—can you imagine?—the crazy notion of companies actually selling music online.

For a time, it all made sense—but only for a time. Several of these companies were making claims beyond their capabilities, and when the bubble burst, "streaming media" became a dirty word. While I watched magazines and trade shows drop all around me, my love for the promise of these bleeding-edge technologies remained undiminished. So I stuck to the mission of spreading the word and educating through print. The issues of that now-defunct magazine got thinner, but no less interesting.

It became apparent that big business had found a way to adopt the technology as a cost-saving tool while the entertainment industry couldn’t figure out a real, sustainable business model. Meanwhile, the unrelated Streaming Media Inc. property—with its own magazine and worldwide tradeshows—was in serious decline, to the point where the shows were ghost towns.

By 2002, publishing a 24-page magazine didn’t make much sense. A new vision with a broader focus—Digital Media magazine—was born and Streaming magazine was officially done. I thought myself alone with the dream of changing the way people communicate with streaming media, so I left the company and started on my business plan to become an evangelist and bring the faith to the people through training. Soon, though, I discovered I was not alone in my zeal.

In the fall of 2002, Streaming Media Inc. was purchased by Information Today, Inc. (its current owner) from Penton Media. Just as I was turning the key on my new business, I got a phone call from the new publisher, who was interested in launching a print product to serve the industry under the Streaming Media brand. That was an exciting day, and one of the most energizing phone conversations I’ve ever had. It was true: There were more people out there with faith strong enough to build another church! Up from the ashes rose the first, gleaming, new industry publication—the 2004 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook. At 136 pages, it was a huge success, not only as a product with a bottom line, but as a resource jam-packed with relevant, useful information. Vendors and industry professionals with the same strong belief all came together to support it. We were back.

Meanwhile, as enterprise users continued to expand their use of online video, technology advances—most notably consumer broadband adoption—finally made successful streaming of consumer-directed content feasible. All of a sudden it was 2006, and as new sects of companies were popping up—mostly worshipping the vaguely defined deity "IPTV"—I started to worry that we might be witnessing the elevation of another golden calf.

That fear really hit me this past November, at the last Streaming Media West conference in San Jose. A couple of guys approached me and in hushed, excited voices said, "We have a product that’s going to revolutionize this industry and communications forever!"

"Really?" I replied. "What is it?"

"We can’t tell you," they said, and walked away.