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Eyes on the Enterprise: Enterprise Multimedia: The New Belle of the Conference Circuit?

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It’s spring again, and in the world of streaming, that can mean only one thing. After spending most of the year talking about the ways online multimedia can help business executives reduce travel, we all get on planes to attend a series of trade shows and conferences in April and May.

Think of it as a kind of digital media family reunion, if you will. Historically, enterprise multimedia technology companies have been treated like the homely stepsister at these gatherings. Few are really interested in talking with them, but they show up anyway to be sociable and maybe get a lead on a date (or, in the case of enterprise multimedia vendors, a lead on a potential sales prospect). Meanwhile, everybody seems to pay attention to the cute cousins in the consumer digital media sector, fawning over the latest startup.

But change is in the air as we move through this season’s series of industry trade shows, and the enterprise multimedia sector does not look quite so dowdy anymore. Thirty percent of the 1,211 corporate executives surveyed by Interactive Media Strategies (IMS) in 2Q 2008 report that their companies plan to increase spending on online multimedia in the current year. Only 21% said they would do so in the 2007 survey, so momentum is growing for the adoption of online multimedia technologies for business communications.

The discussion among leaders in the industry is turning to topics more meaningful than just scrounging for that one extra customer. Rather, a range of issues that promise to impact the course of development in the enterprise multimedia sector over the long term are now on the table. Here’s a quick primer on the topics most likely to keep the conference halls buzzing this season.

Integrating "Social" Capabilities—A growing number of vendors in the enterprise multimedia space are talking about the promise of software applications that make it easier for individual users to rate, recommend, and share video clips. Think of these as solutions that tap into the "wisdom of the crowds" to improve the way relevant video information is distributed within an organization. The challenge for enterprise multimedia technology vendors is identifying the best applications emerging from consumer-oriented social networking sites that will make video a more effective tool for business communications.

Content (Management) Is King—As online multimedia becomes more broadly adopted in the enterprise, the amount of content that executives must sort through is growing exponentially. Nearly one-quarter of all companies represented in the 2008 IMS survey now manage libraries featuring more than 100 hours worth of online multimedia content. As these libraries grow larger and more complex, the task of sorting through and presenting this content in an easy-to-use format is becoming increasingly difficult. As you walk the trade show floors, expect to hear more and more about how vendors are differentiating themselves through the quality of their content management solutions.

At Your Service—The new age of "Video Software as a Service" (called VSAS by some) is close at hand. VSAS refers to the use of hosted technology solutions for creating and distributing business video content. The primary advantage of these hosted solutions is that they pave the way for mid-sized and small companies to adopt advanced multimedia technologies with less up-front investment than is needed to initiate the deployment of multimedia tools. Over time, expect Cisco Systems, Inc. to legitimize the VSAS market with a video-oriented platform to be marketed under its WebEx conferencing brand. Likewise, a growing horde of small startups are looking to hosted solutions as the recipe for delivering cost-effective services to a broader range of business users.

During the next several years, hosted technology offerings will become the big new thing in the enterprise multimedia market. In 2008 you will be certain to hear plenty about exactly what approach will work best to tap the emerging market for hosted multimedia services designed for business use.

The bottom line is that the market for enterprise multimedia technology is growing up. Vendors can seriously discuss creative approaches to addressing issues of key importance to corporate customers. Rather than worrying only about the next paycheck, vendors are focusing on the best ways to differentiate their offerings and are making them more appealing to their target audience. At the end of the day, that trend will not only make the current crop of trade shows more relevant but also pave the way for greater growth in the business online multimedia sector in the years to come.

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