HD Online at the Tipping Point

Of all the sessions at last week's Streaming Media East 2009 in New York, the initial keynote generated perhaps the most discussion. While we covered the keynote by Akamai's CEO, Paul Sagan very briefly in a previous article, the topic deserves a more detailed look.

Sagan started off by referencing the title of his speech, "HD Online @ the Tipping Point" by noting it could have been titled "Internet video at the tipping point".

"What I mean by this title is that, for the first time in more than a decade, we're finally competitive with 'plain old television' for both viewers and quality," said Sagan. "The consumer is finally getting what we've talked about for more than a decade: quality content where you want it, when you want it."

Sagan has a background in broadcast television and cable television, having spent more than 15 years producing television content, including 12 years CBS, and a stint at Time Warner that included launching cable networks and interactive video to TV sets in the daysbefore online video, such as the "Full Service Network" for Time Warner down in Florida, with Roadrunner.

Sagan's background, when cable was just starting to blossom, is key to his point of view on the similarities between cable and online video. A few previous articles (including this one have touched on this topic, but Sagan laid out the similarities concisely.

"What brought it to the tipping point in cable television?" said Sagan. "Early on, it was a technology solution for those who didn't have good over-the-air reception. Back in those days, HBO was a local-only cable access channel in lower Manhattan; they had Islanders games, but not Rangers games."

"The tipping point came when the choice was to follow the lead of Atlanta's WTBS 'Super Station' and put HBO on satellite as a pay service," Sagan continued. "As more people paid, content got better, which then created a cycle that pushed better subscriptions and even better content. In the same way, video is finally ready to take on traditional TV."

"We're on the cusp of many new businesses starting up," said Sagan, "and what the early days of broadband taught us is that, once consumers have access to fast bandwidth, that level of speed becomes the standard by which they judge all future online broadband experiences. Given full-motion video, gaming, and other high-quality online entertainment experiences, consumers will push every previous entertainment tool off the table and focus on consuming broadband-delivered content."

What’s Past is Prologue
Sagan then spent several minutes, addressing the last decade of streaming and online video delivery, from 1999 until 2008, noting key touchstones:

1999

Victoria Secret Fashion Show

"Couldn't see video, and also couldn't get to the website. One user too many took experience down for everyone"

2000

First election night

"Web used to augment TV experience, but not as much video delivered; more focus on election data, etc"

2001

MTV Music Awards

"Augmented TV with live behind-the-scenesacceptance"

2002

Macworld webcasts

"Generated interest at numbers about the size of a small cable show audience. Only way to see event, as it would never make it on the television"

2003

Toronto Rocks (Rolling Stones/SARS benefit concert)

"Promoted television and webcast equally. Big audience on TV but programmers became comfortable with alternate audience"

2004

Internet-exclusive events

"Only way to watch the NASA Mars lunar lander was through online video"

2005

Short Attention Span Theater (aka "YouTube")

"While the quality doesn't match TV, it's content that is consumed heavily (even today)"

2006

Torino 2006 Olympics

"Broadcast rights disputes/enforcement and a move to global licensing"

2007

Hulu and others

"Pioneering long-form experience on the web, at television-quality display"

2008

Masters playoff

"TV handing off to internet; playoff on Monday brought need to push content to the workplace since largest demographic has to go to work."

2009

Presidential Inauguration (10 million streams)

"Free on TV but the online streams in aggregate was equivalent to the viewerships of shows like 60 Minutes, 24 and Survivor"

 

"In other words, we've seen a sea change from a decade ago, in terms of quality and scalability," said Sagan. "Add to it this year's March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, for which we provide the on-demand playback, and we're also seeing a sea change in HD delivery."

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