Smart Choices

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It’s easy to take a technology-centric view when evaluating streaming video technologies: create some feature tables, compare some benchmark clips, and choose an empirical "best." But if you get too caught up in the technology itself, the result is inevitably sterile and will likely be uninformed by the subtle nuances and exceptionally varied requirements presented by real-world use. It’s not just about codecs and formats; it’s about communication.

We contacted six organizations that make extensive use of streaming media, whether for internal communications or for consumer delivery. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Accenture, the state of Montana, DL.TV, blip.tv, and ESPN.com were all kind enough to share with us the decision-making processes behind their streaming video implementations, as well as the reasons behind their choices of video formats. Though we set out to divine how each company chose from among the "big four"—Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, Real, and Windows Media—we found that they’d employed plenty of other format options, including DivX, MPEG-4, and a proprietary streaming technology from Vividas. We even nibbled at Ogg Theora, a codec in the public domain.

Each case study presents a unique slice of streaming video usage, and often an enduring lesson or unique insight. From international consulting firm Accenture, we learn that you should use different parameters when evaluating a codec for internal and external use. Video sharing site blip.tv teaches us how Mac users can help shape technology decisions away from Windows Media for general-purpose sites—Microsoft, are you listening?

DL.TV shows that technology-savvy viewers have strong codec preferences, and that it’s best to give them what they want (imagine that). ESPN delineates the three key strengths of Flash in high-volume, consumer-oriented sites: ease of customer use, player ubiquity, and customizability. The state of Montana illustrates that QuickTime’s free server, live streaming, and high video quality should place it in the running for any organization choosing a streaming technology. From Deloitte, we learned that streaming video should be "multi-channel, multi-format, and as personal as possible."

From each of these organizations, we learned that, if used well, streaming video can be a highly efficient, high-impact communications tool; but to maximize its benefits, you gotta play it where—and how—they wanna watch it.

(Note: For this article, we tried to choose case studies that highlighted all significant streaming technologies, but were ultimately unable to connect with an organization that used Real Video as its primary codec. Real continues to be a major player in corporate and consumer markets, and we apologize for its exclusion.)

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s implementation is a wonderful example of how an organization can harness video in all of its formats to deliver impactful messages where and how the viewers want to watch them.

Consider the challenge of running an international organization like Deloitte. Global in scope, the company's 150 offices are owned by their respective partners, not some higher corporate entity, which sounds more like the U.N. than GE. About 80% of its auditors, tax professionals, and consultants work outside the office, complicating the communication logistics required to maintain a motivated and informed workforce. No wonder Deloitte’s director of global communications, Luis Gallardo, spends more than half of his time crafting and delivering internal messages to Deloitte associates.

Gallardo was hand-plucked from a communications position in Spain by a former Deloitte CEO who admired his work. Gallardo feels that video is both a high-impact medium and an efficient delivery mechanism that allows him to control his message—both internal and external—better than any other. To pursue his goals, Gallardo created the Deloitte Television Network, which is designed to be "multiformat, multichannel, and as personal as possible."

His strategy included giving pre-loaded video iPods—each containing 60 video and 25 audio podcasts—to the CEOs of all Deloitte offices in order to facilitate video communications among enterprise leaders. Gallardo started broadcasting live training around the enterprise and posting audio-only research podcasts on the Deloitte website and in iTunes for the benefit of associates, clients, and prospects.

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