2009: The Year in Review

The upcoming 2010 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook—due out in February—devotes a number of articles to analyzing the 2009 streaming industry verticals, from education and enterprise to media & entertainment and mobile.

Without stealing the thunder of any of those articles, which are much more inclusive, here's a brief set of highlights from key events that occurred in the past year. (And there's still time to get your copy of the Sourcebook by signing up for a free subscription to Streaming Media magazine.)

This year started out with one of the largest live streaming events in history, which took place in the United States on 20 January as Barack Obama was sworn in as the U.S. President. The U.S. Presidential Inauguration live streams were viewed by a simultaneous number of worldwide viewers ranging from 10-12 million, with tens of millions more viewing the streams after the events.

The Mobile World Congress show, held each February in Barcelona, was the first major mobile event at which handset manufacturers could respond to Apple's release of the iPhone 3G in mid-2008. Samsung announced the Omnia HD, which was the first mobile handset capable of capturing 720p high-definition video, and other manufacturers also announced HD products as a way to differentiate from the iPhone, which lacks HD capture or playback.

Nokia and Adobe used MWC as a way to push expand full-featured Flash Players on mobile handsets, announcing a $10 million Open Screen Project fund as a way to jumpstart development of products using Adobe's Flash platform. With Nokia's sights set on competition from Apple and Google, the funds were geared toward developing applications that use Flash as the underlying technology.

"This is an effort to foster the creation, distribution and marketing of applications," said Anup Murarka, director of partner development and technology strategy for Adobe's Platform Business Unit, noting the fund was geared "as a vehicle for grants, it is not a VC fund."

Apple was quick to respond, however, with the March announcement of its iPhone 3.0 software, which would eventually be coupled with a speedier iPhone capable of capturing standard-definition video, the iPhone 3GS. The biggest streaming news about the iPhone 3.0 software was its ability to scale to stream HD content, once Apple hardware is capable of displaying 720p or 1080p resolutions (which may be announced in late January 2010, if rumors of an oversized iPhone "tablet" are founded). The iPhone 3.0 software also included the ability to use adaptive bitrate "chunks" or segmented files for HTTP streaming delivery.

At the annual National Association of Broadcasters show, held each April in Las Vegas, Wowza Media debuted an interesting server product that was able to take H.264 video files and streams and convert them for playback on any of the big three adaptive bitrate streaming protocols (Adobe's Dynamic Streaming, Apple adaptive streaming for the iPhone, and Microsoft's Smooth Streaming). Wowza's Media Server 2 Advanced unbundles the H.264 stream from a particular protocol "wrapper" and then transferred to a new protocol.

Streaming Media East 2009 was held in May in New York City, and one of the most-talked about keynotes was from Akamai CEO Paul Sagan. A veteran of the early cable television days, which parallel parts of the streaming industry's expansion and consolidation, Sagan talked about the HD "tipping point" that 2009 had ushered in. A few months later, Sagan and Akamai Chief Scientist Tom Leighton announced the Akamai HD network, which will be used to deliver 720p HD Silverlight streams of the 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver.

The transition from analog to digital TV service was delayed several months, but finally occurred on June 12, when analog television signals ceased broadcasting. While many cable subscribers saw no difference, as over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts were already carried as part of cable's "must carry" rules, the transition was key for those in rural areas or who relied on OTA transmissions. While I may have been one of the few whose TV convertor box coupons did not work, many viewers were able to buy convertor boxes to allow their old analog televisions to receive digital TV signals.

The freed-up spectrum has now been segmented and a portion has been auctioned off, picked up by several wireless carriers for use in wireless and mobile broadband delivery as part of 4G networks, also known as Long Term Evolution (LTE). Unfortunately, as LTE is still several years off in the U.S. and Europe, and mobile handsets like the iPhone are quadrupling usage of current mobile broadband spectrum, the wireless industry is also clamoring to use a portion of the OTA digital TV spectrum, which will be a key area to watch in 2010.

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