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Futurewatch 2007: The Blurring Line Between Entertainment and Enterprise Streaming

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This, in turn, is blurring the once-clear line between entertainment and enterprise content—which for our purposes here includes education and government-generated content. While the two types of content were formerly easily distinguishable—the classic "lean forward vs. lean back" dichotomy—we are now seeing traditional enterprise and educational content attract audiences large enough to rival entertainment-industry results. In one case, a video of a University of California, Berkeley physics lecture posted on Google generated enough hits to rank among Google’s most popular videos. Digging a little deeper revealed that Berkeley’s publicly available classes had generated nearly 500,000 views and that these views had originated from more than 40 countries. At the same time, universities across the country were responding to student demand to use their iPod "entertainment" devices to improve their learning experience. At present, more than 40 universities are making content public via iTunes, Google, or other public content sites.

This inverse trend—of the consumer experience driving enterprise technology instead of the historical reverse—will continue throughout the coming year and beyond. It will gain momentum with the growing consumption of online digital music, online entertainment video, and online video for personal networking. The signs will be everywhere, from cubicle webcams tied into Skype, to video files embedded in PowerPoint, to videos captured on mobile phones. In 2007, entertainment and online communications will continue to merge, and the role of the personal computer will continue to morph from desktop application workhorse to a hub for creating and consuming online communications content.

The Enterprise Leads the Streaming Charge
With a large number of Fortune 500 companies among our client base, we’ve had a privileged vantage point from which to observe—and share with you—the trends we see materializing in some of the world’s most advanced streaming deployments. In the last year, we’ve seen interest in streaming transition from internal champions to organization-wide initiatives, and watched as early content creators become recognized as strategists, with their own divisions and growing head counts. Nearly simultaneously, organizations started using terms like "online communications," "online training," and "rich media communications" to describe applications that not long before had simply been called "streaming" or "webcasting." Some of the other macro-trends we’ve observed include:

The Discovery Effect: Put simply, once organizations break the ice with their first streaming system—usually for a special, high-value executive event—they systematically and predictably increase their use of online communications. The use model also begins to migrate from the exclusive purview of top executives to horizontal adoption by corporate communications and training teams and vertical adoption by department heads for regular product launches and informational meetings. Accompanying this increased familiarity, the frequency of webcasting as a communications vehicle expands from high-production special events to routine daily functions that do not require production crews, make-up, or studio scheduling. And since the incremental cost to deliver the audio or video to additional colleagues around the globe is often nominal, organizations also begin to rely on online rich media as a way to share knowledge across oceans, time zones, and languages.

Focus on Program Results: For a long time, it was enough that a company’s media or communications team could just pull off a live webcast that delivered a largely satisfactory experience to a wide audience. With the advent of turnkey rich media products that enable even unskilled operators to create both live and on-demand rich media versions of meetings and presentations, there’s now growing pressure from the management team to prove the value of these events. Media shops, corporate communicators, and training organizations will increasingly have to answer the question: "What are the results of your online programs?" From training to communications to certification, testing, and education, rich media content creators will need to produce meaningful reports that demonstrate the results of their technology investments.

Deeper IT Integration of Streaming: The "discovery effect" often triggers an alarmingly rapid expansion of rich media assets, all of which must be properly named, catalogued, secured, tagged, and archived. Our clients have largely circumvented the challenges associated with this trend through careful up-front planning and cooperation with IT teams to ensure their rich media communications are integrated with core information systems. Implementation imperatives will soon include integration with corporate databases for intuitive asset management and search; integration with LDAP directories to secure content by authenticating and tracking views throughout the presentation’s lifespan; integration with the client’s existing audio/visual and hardware investments (to prevent scalability limitations); and securing assets through integration with corporate databases as well as enterprise content management and learning management systems.

Deeper Network Integration of Streaming: The expansion of streaming throughout corporate communications, training, and educational programs carries a commensurate network burden to ensure that the firm’s production applications are never imperiled. Far from the early days when all the organization needed to worry about was an occasional event sent out over a commercial CDN, streaming installations now and in the near future will need to leverage caching, edge server delivery, and multicasting to provide an optimal experience for globally dispersed employees. This architectural requirement will remain paramount as organizations move more and more applications to enterprise content delivery networks and look to leverage cost-effective IP bandwidth for a growing number of day-to-day communications applications.

Shift from Standalone to Merged Applications: One of the most critical changes in enterprise streaming will be the evolution from "event-driven" usage to adoption for broader, more generalized online communications. As we are already starting to see, the success of this transition will, in part, be predicated on erasing the traditional lines that separated streaming from other, more established online communications solutions, including instant messaging and web- and video-conferencing. In time, these content creation solutions and the assets they create will be centrally accessed and—to the average user—largely indistinguishable as disparate technologies. With this convergence of capabilities and workflows, users will be able to think less about technology and more about their message, their audience, and achieving their key objectives—a testament to a technology that has achieved solution status.

In closing, the streaming industry has produced so many positive facts and so much positive momentum that the gift of prescience is not necessary. Most, if not all, of this article was written simply by extrapolating from what I have seen from customers, partners, service providers, and the rest of the streaming ecosystem. As the novelist William Gibson once wrote: "The future has already arrived, it just isn’t evenly distributed." But it will be.

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