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Broadband Marketing at Oracle

With 43,000 employees and annual revenues of $10.9 billion, Oracle Corporation – the world’s largest producer of database software – both contributes to and benefits from large-scale enterprise streaming media applications. While Oracle database products have been incorporated into the most popular digital asset management solutions, the company also boasts one of the most active streaming media programs in the enterprise space. Oracle has integrated over 3,000 unique streaming media files into its internal and external corporate Web sites.

Oracle utilizes streaming in virtually every area of its business, from marketing and education, to sales support and development. "Oracle uses streaming media in its many forms to reduce time to market, reduce costs, provide better and more consistent information in a convenient manner, and attract new audiences," says Nathaniel Robinson, Oracle’s senior director of broadband marketing. "We’ve forged new partnerships and created new business models because of [streaming], and use it as a sales vehicle, an internal and external education medium, a feedback loop for our customers, and maybe most importantly, as a competitive differentiator. In short, everything Oracle does, [it does] better, faster and cheaper through streaming media."

Streaming at Oracle is split almost evenly between two divisions – Broadband Marketing and Education. Streaming programs produced by the Broadband Marketing Division include the E-Business Network and Internet Seminars. The E-Business Network (www.oracle.com/ebusinessnetwork), a combination of live and on-demand events, offers shows like "Cooking with Code," "Dr. DBA," and "E-Business@Work." Based on a cable television model, the E-Business Network targets a niche audience, and like a cable network, it generates income by selling access to its specialized audience to sponsors like Compaq, HP and Veritas. Robinson notes, "We have a very specific and well-targeted audience. [Sponsors] know who they are, that they have broadband connections, who they work for and what their jobs are. It’s very attractive to companies to be able to have a touch point with that kind of demographic."

Broadband Marketing also produces Internet Seminars (www.oracle.com/iseminars), a streaming media initiative specifically aimed at driving leads to Oracle’s Internet Sales Division. With over 130 on-demand sessions currently available — familiarizing customers with virtually every product or service that Oracle offers — the Internet Seminar program averages over 2,700 attendees, and delivers over 2,000 qualified sales leads to the ISD each week.

Oracle’s Education Division produces training-oriented programming, including the Oracle Learning Network (www.oracle.com/education/oln), which boasts 600 instructors worldwide and over 100,000 registered subscribers. (Oracle’s Education Division will be profiled in a future story.) Oracle also streams about 150 live webcasts of internal divisional and departmental updates each year over the Oracle intranet. These live webcasts are also made available for subsequent on-demand viewing.

While most of Oracle’s streaming content is accessed on-demand, some 20 percent is streamed live — usually in conjunction with physical events like the Oracle Open World tradeshow. Most content is streamed, but much of it is available for download. "For internal usage, all our media is available for download," said Robinson. "We want [our sales force] to be able to have that content with them rather than having to worry about securing an Internet connection." In the near future, Oracle plans to make content available to its external audience for download to wireless devices and MP3 players. Robinson notes, "We absolutely want people to be able to download and take away our shows." On average, 90 percent of the daily requests for Oracle’s streaming files originate from its external audience.

Nuts and Bolts

Oracle currently offers streams at 28Kbps (audio only), 56Kbps (176x128 video) and 150Kbps (240x180 video) — all playing through embedded players to maintain Oracle’s own branding. (Streams have also been encoded for DSL (300Kbps; 320x240), but have not yet been made available to users.) The iSeminars stream through 615x355 embedded players using SMIL to display JPEG slides in sync with audio or video tracks. Oracle programmers have written their own SMIL generator to streamline the process. For webcasts tied to live events, Oracle typically employs a three-window model using live video, data or slides, and polling or web chat.

To feed its healthy appetite for streaming programming, Oracle operates state-of-the-art video production facilities, including three studios at corporate headquarters in Belmont Shores, CA, and satellite studios in London and Singapore. The studios at corporate headquarters house five Ikegami HL-45 studio cameras, a Sony 700 DigiBeta field camera, and three Canon XL1 mini-DV cams. The London facility uses three robotic cameras, while Asia Pacific is an audio-only operation.

The Broadband Marketing and Video groups employ a combined staff of 15, including five local video producers and three regional contract producers in Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. Except for its international operations, Oracle no longer outsources video production work. But like most cost-conscious corporate media groups, the Oracle video team hires freelance production crew on a per-project basis. (The Education Division employs its own studios, equipment and production personnel.)

Content is currently encoded in RealMedia for streaming and MPEG-1 for archiving and downloading. Not surprisingly, Oracle steers clear of the Windows Media platform, and is one of RealNetwork’s most important enterprise customers. For on-demand content, Oracle’s video production team typically records on videotape (BetaSP or DigiBeta), edits on one of six NLE suites (three Avid, three Media100), then encodes in MPEG-l. The MPEG files are then transferred via Telestream ClipMail to Oracle’s encoding lab, where they are encoded from MPEG into RealMedia on one of five dedicated encoders. In addition to the SMIL generator, Oracle programmers have also written a program that uses Real’s .rm batch functions and a GUI to batch encode MPEG-l files into RealMedia at various bit rates and frame sizes. Oracle may soon begin archiving streaming files on DVD, and is currently researching digital asset management (DAM) solutions, most of which employ Oracle database software.

Oracle’s Global IT Division handles the actual streaming through a bank of 16 live encoders that connect to four fiber lines in the Oracle Data Center. Global IT also manages Broadband Marketing’s 235 GB (175 GB external, 60 GB internal) of on-demand streaming media files. (The Education Division’s streaming files are stored separately.) Like many large enterprises, Oracle is in the process of building out its multicast capabilities. Oracle’s corporate headquarters (which employs 10,000 people) and much of its North American infrastructure are already multicast enabled.

Streaming Success?

Oracle monitors the success of its streaming media programming in a number of ways. "We have a constant evaluation of our content, and have the equivalent of ‘sweeps’ twice a year for the E-Business Network," says Robinson. "Shows that are not performing in terms of views are reevaluated." With viewing times averaging 11-12 ½ minutes for shows that average 26 minutes in length, that’s pretty compelling content, especially considering that some viewers may be surfing, and may bail after a minute or two.

Ultimately, the true success of streaming media at Oracle – as at most enterprises – is measured in terms of the bottom line. "Our estimates tell us that streaming media saved Oracle over $10 million in the last fiscal year," says Robinson. "Look at Internet Seminars. To have an employee attend a hotel seminar costs about $350 per head. To have them attend by streaming media costs less than $2.00. It’s a huge cost saving." He adds, "The travel expenses saved by not having employees go to a given location, for a company the size of Oracle, is very large." Oracle also sees revenue from buy links attached to streaming programs and advertising on the E-Business Network, and cost savings from the elimination of consumable media (i.e. videotapes and CDs).

Although its streaming media program already dwarfs that of other large enterprises, Oracle plans to increase streaming in the near future. New streaming programs currently in the works include Oracle Newsroom (three-minute clips of topical content and news), Oracle Live (24x7 streaming), and My E-Business Network (a user-programmable channel). Keeping track of Oracle’s abundance of current streaming media, in addition to these new programs, will likely require powerful database software. The folks at Oracle might know just where to find it.

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