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The 2007 Streaming Media Readers' Choice Awards
The virtual polls open today for readers to pick the best of the best products, services, and technologies in sixteen categories.
Mon., Aug. 20, by Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen

When we decided it was time to initiate the first annual Streaming Media Readers’ Choice Awards (click HERE to go directly to the voting page), we had no idea what we were getting into. That’s partially because I ignored the warnings from colleagues about just how much administrivia there’d be to reckon with, from coordinating with IT to taking phone call after phone call to answer questions.

But the amount of work isn’t the half of it, and besides, I’m sure it’ll all be worth it in the end. (Funny how I listened to my colleagues about the payoff but not the pain.) The real challenge was coming up with the categories, especially because we didn’t want to end up with so many of them that a mere glance at the ballot would be so daunting as to discourage voting.

[A quick note: The finalists in all the categories either nominated themselves or were nominated by customers or others in the industry. But I'm sure there are some very worthy candidates who aren't on the list. Feel free to write in a vote in any of the categories.]

The debate that ensued was, to say the least, instructive. The first thing we decided was to stay away from awarding content, either individual videos and events or destination sites—the former automatically favors scale over substance, while the latter would need to be based on so many factors outside the world of online video itself. We toyed with the idea of a "Who’s Who" approach, but while it might be easy to identify the innovators in the media and entertainment space, leaders in the enterprise and academic spaces don’t necessarily carry the same name recognition.

Ultimately, we decided to award products and services, but even that one step forward seemed to move us two steps back. So much of the technology in our industry is multipurpose and crosses functional boundaries that it defies tidy categorization. We didn’t want the categories to be so broad as to be meaningless—i.e., lumping all content delivery platforms into a category called "CDN"—but we also didn’t want them to be so narrow and specific that they’d suggest winners by default.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth—or at least a couple weeks of heated phone calls and emails during which the number, names, and scope of the categories swelled, shrunk, then swelled again—we settled on sixteen that we felt best captured the technology and services that drive our industry:
• Encoding hardware
• Server hardware/software
• Encoding software
• Content management platform
• Global content delivery network (non-P2P)
• Regional (North American) content delivery service provider (non-P2P)
• P2P delivery network
• IPTV hardware
• IPTV software
• Webcasting platform
• Webcasting appliance
• Search and indexing platform
• Video advertising platform
• Streaming radio solution
• Collaboration/conference solution
• Content protection/DRM solution

You’ll notice there’s no category for video format, a category in which there are so many variables as to render any comparisons almost meaningless. (Best format for what?) And what about hybrid CDNs that use both traditional and P2P protocols for delivery?

You might argue that there are just as many variables in some of the categories we did choose. And you can certainly contend that a readers’ choice awards format is flawed in any number of ways—that only people who’ve actually used a product or vendor should be allowed to vote for it, that the format is inherently nothing more than a popularity contest. In fact, I could show you some examples of such arguments in my email inbox right now.

But while we know there’s nothing scientific about the awards process, we don’t believe that makes it any less valuable. It’s one of the few ways that, on a mass level, end users get to have a say about what they like and what they don’t, about who’s doing things right and who’s missing the boat. The results might say more about perception than reality, but then that will just send a message that certain vendors might have some work to do on raising their public image.

Most of all, though, it’s chance to honor the success of all the technology that’s behind the tremendous growth our industry has seen, and a time to give kudos in a very public fashion. To have your say, click HERE—voting opens on August 20 and closes on September 7.

We’ll announce the winners in the October/November issue of Streaming Media. Then, at a reception at Streaming Media West—open to all attendees—we’ll present the awards. So if you weren’t planning on going, come on out and join the party.

If you have any questions about the Readers Choice Awards, please contact me at erics@infotoday.com.