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The Streaming Industry Is Dead, and It's Never Been Hotter
Over the decades the streaming video industry has migrated into hundreds of other industries, and what was fringe is now mainstream.

As we get ready for 2018—a year in which Streaming Media will celebrate its 20th anniversary—it is fitting that we reflect on just how successful we’ve been at killing off the streaming media industry.

I, for one, am very glad to celebrate this victory, even though I hear some of you muttering as you shake your heads in disbelief.

“Siglin’s lost it,” you’re probably saying. But it’s true. The streaming industry is dead, thanks to its success.

In 2003, 5 years into my involvement with streaming media, I penned an article called “Simply Business” which suggested a number of non-entertainment-focused streaming use cases. All of those use cases, once considered fringe uses for streaming, are now mainstream—so much so that the original article feels quaint. I will revisit this same topic in 2018, in a way detailed at the end of this column.

Our success has never been based on having an industry that acts as the sole gatekeeper to streaming technologies—from hardware, including mobile phones and set-top boxes, to software for encoding and transmitting content—but rather on “success by a thousand cuts,” the assimilation of streaming into many market verticals, even if those verticals have widely divergent use cases.

I first learned this expand-and-conquer approach in 1993 as part of two pre-streaming-era technologies: video walls and videoconferencing.

The typical videoconferencing unit in those days was actually a facility—a custom-built room with full-time videoconferencing coordinators who were inputting strings of code into an MPEG-2-based codec. The coordinators then sat alongside users, who were paying incredible rates just to see a grainy and blocky version of another person in a distant city, just in case the videoconferencing unit disconnected itself from the multi-ISDN-line call.

In order to be successful, videoconferencing needed to overcome several barriers: very expensive rooms with finely tuned lighting, expensive encoder/decoder units the size of a small dishwasher, and a person dedicated to programming the videoconferencing dialer.

The first inkling I had that videoconferencing could be more than a talking-head technology came as part of a visit to the Saturn automotive plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. While the tour of the automated assembly lines was impressive, what really caught my eye was the isolated room on the assembly line floor that housed a constantly connected videoconferencing unit.

Directly linked to a team of engineers near Detroit, this videoconferencing room was purpose-built for show-and-tell demonstrations, allowing assembly line employees to visually show the remote team any problem with a part they’d just pulled from the assembly line.

Some cameras were mounted in the ceiling and others were mounted at table-height. These multiple angles, which could be selected on a touch-screen controller, allowed the remote engineering team to see various angles of a part, with the end goal being to understand and modify the finer details of a part that may not fit properly into a Saturn or may be slowing down a very expensive assembly line.

Costs on this single-purpose videoconferencing link between Tennessee and Michigan were much lower than flying a single engineer in to solve a problem that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost manufacturing and sales.

Today, we wouldn’t think twice about using our phones to do a similar IP-based videoconferencing call, or even to do a narrowcast stream to a few dozen viewers as part of an on-the-shop floor training exercise. And that seamless integration into everyday life, from the office to the shop floor to the living room to the playground, is where the streaming industry has effectively met its apex and its demise.

I will be penning four articles in 2018 based on opportunities in emergent market verticals. This 2018 update to my 2003 article will examine use cases in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and music, and may also open up other early-stage challenges in nascent verticals.

Join me in this year-long celebration of the demise of our industry as we prepare for the next 10 years of streaming success.

[This article appears in the November/December 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Vertically Challenged."]

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This year marks the 14th anniversary of the Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook, the annual guide that's become a bible for all parts of the online video economy.