Streaming Media East 2000: Life at Ground Zero
Ground zero -- that’s the best way to describe the show floor at Streaming Media East 2000 in New York. The cutting edge is populated by a broad range of companies: architects of streaming network infrastructure, companies focused on delivering streaming content to the broadband masses, and the meat and potatoes of the medium – the content providers themselves.
Whether your goal is to create, manipulate, deliver, distribute, manage, syndicate or sell streaming content, Streaming Media East 2000 was the place to be. Streamingmedia.com’s editorial team spoke with a sampling of the 125 companies that exhibited at the show. Their vision, and their innovative technical and market strategies, form the artillery necessary to lead this streaming revolution.
Like many multimedia hardware and software vendors that cut their teeth in traditional media, Sonic Foundry (www.sonicfoundry.com) is now placing considerable emphasis on solutions for creating, editing, and delivering streaming media. This stance is evidenced by, among other things, the release of the company’s new Vegas Video video production software, and by the recent creation of a media services division to offer encoding, webcasting, syndication, production, and digital rights management.
"With the demand increasing for companies to encode their content, we decided that we should service those clients and opened up our media services division," said Sonic Foundry’s Dawn Tappy, from the show floor. "It’s a full suite for b2b. We have relationships with Sony, Warner Brothers, Universal, all the major conglomerates to encode their media and content."
On the streaming media production front, Sonic Foundry is in direct competition with Media 100 – another traditional media company with a new emphasis on streaming. "They have technologies that are similar to ours," Tappy said. "Vegas Video is a little bit different, though, because it offers an entire suite of audio tools from the Vegas Pro audio application. So it’s an entire audio application with an entire video application."
Sonic Foundry’s answer to Media 100’s popular Media Cleaner software -- for optimizing audio and video for streaming over the Internet – is a product called Noise Reduction. "We’ve always offered it separately, but now we’ve incorporated it into our software" Tappy said. "Everything within Vegas Video is able to enhance and optimize that video content for delivery. Vegas Video also has a preview window, which is different from Media Cleaner. Real time rendering, right away. Also, after you’ve created your content and you want to see what it’s going to look like in Real, or in the Windows Media format, you can test it before you do it."
Sonic Foundry will also throw its hat into another emerging trend in the streaming industry – content syndication. "Syndication is something that we’re about to announce" Tappy said. "We’re going to be offering a syndication network option. It will not be a software application; it will be an actual service offering."
Digital Island (www.digitalisland.com) comes in on the delivery side of the streaming equation, and is continually expanding its scope to accommodate more clients and greater coverage. The company employs a distributed broadcasting system designed to facilitate efficient delivery of streaming content.
"DI is a complete end-to-end solution, everything from file and web distribution of traditional media to a streaming push to the end points," said Seth Chambers. "Features like seamless ad insertion, automatic negotiation of a streaming download, and providing streaming management through partnerships with people like Fast Forward, for example. We do post production, live event production, and encoding for both live and on-demand events through Real, Windows Media and Quicktime."
To help facilitate those services, DI recently joined forces with Keynote Systems, Inc. to bring quality improvements to its Footprint Live streaming services. Footprint Live provides the means to create, deliver and monetize live, on-demand and recurring streaming media content. "Footprint is the overall name for our secret sauce – file distribution based on where the load is coming from," said Chambers.
Through Footprint, DI ensures that streaming events are broadcast in an efficient manner. "Media is redistributed to end points that are close to the location of where (the customer) is," Chambers said. "For example, I think we have three racks in West Virginia right now for AOL. So every person coming onto the network wanting to play something off of DI from AOL, instead of having to hit a server out in Los Angeles or New York, they’re pulling directly from West Virginia."
"We also do a lot of live events that are time-zone coded, so we’ll do a live event and maybe broadcast it three times for each major time zone," Chambers said. "Initially we’ll have all the servers on the East Coast directing all traffic, and migrate it across the US as time zones go."
You’ve gone to great pains to create and deliver compelling streaming content -- the trouble, for end users, is finding that content. Yack.com’s (www.yack.com) mission is to make programming on the Web as easy to find as programming on TV.
"We’re a guide to everything that’s gone live on the Web," said Yack’s Alan Spector. "We liken ourselves to the TV Guide of the Web. For instance, we have an online radio guide, which lists tens of thousands of Internet-based radio stations and terrestrial stations that broadcast on the net. Plus we list thousands of online movies, by genre, by language, and by category."
In a Web of portals, how does a Yack keep its head above water? "We compete on the quality of what we do -- our editorial content, the design, the speed of the site," Spector said. "One important thing is a relationship we have with 220 content providers, like Warner Brothers, CNN, Bloomberg. We list most of their events, or all of their events, depending on the contract. The content relationships are a primary strategic goal at Yack, to get as much information on the site, to be as comprehensive and complete as anyone, to become a streaming media guide to the Internet."
Yack.com’s goal to become that guide became more fully realized with its acquisition Monday of competitor Channelseek for an undisclosed amount.
In this age of proliferating broadband, video often garners the most attention in the streaming realm. But there are plenty of innovations being made in audio content – and the methods of delivering that content. Audible.com (www.audible.com) has taken the hugely successful concept of "books on tape", and removed the tape.
"We offer 22,000 hours of spoken-word audio. And in digitizing that material, we’ve added a lot more ability to create a customized listening experience," said Audible’s Jonathan Korzen. "We provide a daily audio digest of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times, the Economist magazine, Forbes, Harvard Management Update, and others. We have a comedy program every week from Robin Williams. Something for everyone. It’s all available at the site."
Audible’s delivery model is double tiered, and designed to maximize convenience for its users. "You can download it to your PC, or you can stream it to your PC," Korzen said. "You can also transfer it to a Diamond Rio or any of the new Pocket PCs and use them as digital Walkman devices. You can then listen to, say, the Wall Street Journal in the car, or wherever you wouldn’t mind being read to. Your mind is free, your eyes are busy."
To promote this on-the-go listening scenario, Audible is selling the Diamond Rio audio player on a leveraged model. "You buy the Rio for $110 or $120 less than retail from us, with an agreement to buy $10 worth of Audible audio per month for one year," Korzen said.
Making portable listening feasible is a highly compressed audio format licensed from VoiceAge. "What that allows us to do is really crunch down the files – one hour of Audible audio takes up 2MB of memory space," Korzen said. "So if you’re downloading 180 minutes of content, you’re only downloading 6MB. If that were an MP3 file, no-one on a modem would ever download it."
How does Audible translate recordings into cash? "Our revenue is primarily based on subscriptions and one-time sales of audio books," Korzen said.
Content partnerships are also part of the equation. "We go to Random House and Simon and Schuster and say, listen, we offer you a new channel of distribution, and copyright security for your intellectual property," Korzen said. "Most of our customers were not audio book listeners before they became listeners through Audible, so we’re not cannibalizing their cassette businesses, and we pay them a royalty for every sale of their audio book that is comparable to what they net on the sale of cassettes. We’re able to sell it for half price because we don’t have to cover the cost of the physical cassette, or the shipping, or the shelf space in the bookstore."
To hook first-time users, Audible offers some free content. "You don’t have to buy something immediately," Korzen said. "You can download free chapters of audio books, or take out a trial subscription to our newspapers, and see if you like it before there’s any commitment."
Providers of streaming content to end-users face some difficult challenges in delivery, but attracting visitors and generating revenue from those visitors are even more formidable. Independent video site Eveo (www.eveo.com) takes quite a different approach from many of the content providers here at Streaming Media East 2000.
"We’re defining a new model in the streaming media space," said Eveo’s Olivier Zitoun. "What you see a lot of around here is kind of the traditional model of TV on the Web, or producing content for the Web, or services related to that. But when it comes to empowering people to create their own content and creating a new dimension in the making of content, we’re truly about what the Web is all about, which is interactivity, user participation."
Eveo’s key mission is to incubate a new generation of streaming video talent, and to help empower those content creators to succeed in the streaming world. "We are working to facilitate new business opportunities for these new emerging talents, and to make more stuff for us, and for TV and DVD and others," Zitoun said.
Part of that plan involves paying content creators on a progressive basis. "We have a very unique compensation model called earn per view, which means that everyone who shows a video on eveo.com gets 5 cents per view, each time the video is viewed, on a non-exclusive basis," Zitoun said. "If the video is considered one of the best rated and most viewed, then we pay the author $750 for exclusivity rights. But on top of that we share any syndication revenues on-line or off-line on a 55/45 percent basis -- 55 percent to the author."
A recently announced affiliation with Loudeye – to use its new Media Syndicator technology -- will help to maximize the benefits of this plan, and maximize revenue for Eveo. "We are going to use Loudeye’s technology to license our best content to a lot of other affiliates that are interested in getting some fresh content on their web sites," Zitoun said. "It is a very strong platform to help us do that. The incubated content will now have exposure outside of our web site. It’s no longer limited to eveo.com for exposure – now you’re going to have exposure to hundreds of other web sites where you’re going to have millions and millions of page views."
In just a short time, Eveo’s model has at least attracted a good deal of industry attention. "What’s unique about Eveo is that we can make streaming media content truly interactive in a way that people are no longer passive viewers; they can really make their own content" Zitoun said. "That’s why we’re seeing a lot of people wanting to work with us to help us to build our company and make our vision happen quickly."