The (Small) Business of Streaming Media

Once production is complete, most videos are still in an editable format, such as MiniDV or MPEG-2; unfortunately, these formats are often 10–50 times larger than the average viewer’s available bandwidth. Until recently, the cost of programs that compress the videos down to manageable levels for streaming was prohibitive for small businesses that did only a few videos per month or quarter. While professional-level conversion programs such as Sorenson’s Squeeze, Autodesk’s Cleaner, or Popwire’s CompressionMaster are still the best choice for conversion, a recent spate of free or open-source applications have changed the playing field, offering acceptable conversions from MiniDV. Additionally, many open-source programs marketed as DVD- or movie-ripping tools work equally well for converting MPEG-2 to streaming formats.

Little is mentioned, outside of high-end Web development firms or government institutions, about 508 compliance or other aids for the visually impaired. Yet a growing number of businesses, including small businesses, would benefit a portion of their customer base by adding closed captioning and other visual aids to their streaming and Web presence. Don’t be surprised if mandatory 508 compliance spreads beyond government Web sites, the only U.S. group currently required to provide these visual aids.

Some small businesses will distribute their content through the mail (or FedEx or UPS) on videotape or DVD. But this trend is decreasing as potential customers come to rely on the Web to get their information about products and services. In fact, an article by this author in the 2005 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook that noted nascent industries that would soon use video streaming to drive an uptick in customer purchases—such as the travel industry—is already outdated; almost every major travel Web site has shifted to online accessibility to its previously mailed video content.

As noted at the beginning of this article, however, streaming distribution is a "great unknown" for small businesses. Each CDN interviewed for this article mentioned that their customer base spans from mid-size to large companies but that they are actively pursuing business models that would suit small businesses. They do so with hopes of growing the business opportunity from today’s startup businesses.

Nine Systems’ Helen Tse sums up the forward-thinking CDN’s approach to small-business clients. Sounding more like a savvy small business banker than a CDN exec, Tse notes that her company benefits from the "fresh set of eyes" and excitement small business customers bring to the CDN.

"After many years of being jaded by the companies that believe they know it all and change streaming providers like clothes—always chasing the lowest price per GB—we are able to see from newbies’ eyes how incredibly beneficial and useful streaming media has become and the value our company offers in enabling these clients to leverage streaming media easily to add value to their daily business," says Tse. "These small businesses appreciate this value and customer service we provide and they remember it when they have become above-average streaming opportunities where every streaming company in the country is trying to get their business."

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