Streaming vs. Progressive Download
The choice between progressive download and streaming must be made based on sound business logic as well as technical considerations.
The Customer’s Perspective: I Don’t Care; I Just Want it to Work!
At the end of the day, the customers just want to get their content with the least effort and fewest hassles. First on their wish list is usually the ability to view the file without altering their environment. This becomes more of a macro choice for the publisher, but on the whole, streaming requires fewer client installations. Then they want the video to be delivered fast, which is more a product of their network than it is your delivery method. They also want a good viewing experience. Streaming is far better at scaling the content to the bandwidth of the user to ensure a quality view. Progressive download is a far more reliable choice for consistently delivering the content in the way the publisher intended it to be viewed. Lastly, if they want to share the content, they will be much better served by progressive download, which easily enables viral sharing.
From the viewer’s perspective, both delivery methods can do what the other does, and over time will appear more and more similar. The customer already receives similar experiences as they move from site to site; just consider the number of YouTube look-alikes that are emerging. Some groups are even combining Adobe’s RTMP/T streaming (see sidebar, "A Brief History of Video Delivery Protocols") and Flash progressive download along with both QuickTime streaming and QuickTime DRM standards.
Complications: P2P and DRM
Peer-to-peer (P2P) is the third entry into the content delivery arena. It offers the tantalizing potential of cost breaks beneath what both streaming and progressive download can offer, but has major hurdles to overcome, both technically and on the business side. At the moment, the quality it offers in non-seeded environments like Joost is poor, and the performance varies drastically, depending on the number of users attached to the content (See Ron Miller's "Cookin' with P2P," pp. 32–38). The P2P framework does not lend itself to DRM, which is widely in flux for top-tier publishers. While it will be interesting to watch these developments play out, at this time P2P is not a practical delivery method for most any publisher.
The only clear reason to use streaming is to ensure that your content is being viewed only by a subscriber, or for a live event. But those same controls make it difficult to share content. Progressive download handles the crushing demand of viral distribution, with the viewing experience less likely to be disrupted by the number of viewers. It also enables easy sharing of videos and offers greater free-market advertising opportunities, all while keeping the cost of delivery significantly lower than that of streaming. Ultimately, service providers need to be able to adapt to the needs of the customer rather than be constrained by one delivery protocol or another. The goal is clear: Let the customer design the campaign and the community without regard to the headaches of the technology. The technology is here to serve the business.