A Decade of StreamingMedia.com

No, I’m not yearning for the glory days before we knew that the artist formerly known as Prince might just become Prince again, after he’d partied like it was 1999. What I mean is that we’ve been here, under very similar circumstances—both the good and the bad—for well past a decade.

And while the playback devices and even a few of the compression technologies have changed—think Flash Video—it’s often the same vexing business models and the same limitations that we’re dealing with.

This commentary isn’t meant to denigrate today’s new stars any more than it’s meant to give pause to the "stupid money" that chased silly valuations a decade ago and is doing so again (as in, "We don’t understand the business model but it’s got to work since it worked for Facebook").

Rather, it’s meant as a classic practical exercise in the art of learning from what we did before, right and wrong, and leveraging the benefits of what we’ve gained in the last 10 to 15 years of streaming media.

This need to look back and assess the business and technical hurdles we’ve overcome, as well as the ones we’ve stumbled over, was personally driven home to me as I walked into a dinner in Barcelona on the day before Valentine’s Day.

The Mobile World Congress was in full swing, and everywhere there were signs of video dominating discussions at a show traditionally geared toward handsets and mobile radio chip designs: Robert Redford was a keynote speaker, as was Isabella Rossellini, both touting the artistic growth of the "third screen" or "small screen" for streaming mobile short films. It was almost like watching the final SuperComm event in 2005, when Cisco’s John Chambers stood up in front of a group of telecom executives in the U.S. and declared video delivery was the key element that would drive fixed-line (DSL) subscriber growth—and also would create an equally promising opportunity for cable TV operators.

At this dinner, I found myself face-to-face with people I’d done go-to-market strategies and business analysis cases for during the 1995–1999 time frame, as streaming was just taking off, videoconferencing was figuring out H.264, and ISDN/T1s were slowly being replaced by DSL. These same people are now back in the mobile video space in a large way, because they’re in turn selling to the same people they once sold to—or partnering with those people on VC deals. Discussion at the table ranged from the political (should the Green Line in Turkey be abolished?) to the nostalgic (Rembrandt II VP videoconference codec devices about the size of a college dorm room refrigerator) to the here and now (whether watching high-definition movies on a Blu-ray Disc-equipped laptop was even worth the time, or if you really needed a home theater system to fully appreciate them: "It’s all about the sound!" one of the dinner guests emphatically stated). But the discussion kept coming back around to the opportunity faced in streaming video, especially in a mobile play. The players at the table had been there during the glory days of the mid-‘80s and the late-‘90s and were now back in the game for the late 2000s.

While the streaming story goes several years beyond the last decade, at least from the various roles I’ve had in startups and consulting projects, we’re going to focus on the last decade surrounding the StreamingMedia.com website, the trade show events, and the first and second coming of Streaming Media magazine. Along the way, we’re going to explore a few of the unsung or forgotten heroes of the streaming media story.

Pax Romana
In the early days, the shows were hopping, the official parties were much more than a show-floor cocktail hour, and startups abounded, including some who have continued through the downturn and come out the other side with business models intact, a continuing vision, and, for a few, a key patent or two. Richard Bowsher, CEO of First Conferences, hit streaming media at the right time, launching a website, a trade show series, and making plans for a trade publication called, appropriately, Streaming Media magazine.

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