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The Player's the Thing...But So Is The Codec, Format, and Protocol

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I asked why Level 3 would expand its RTMP-based capacity in the face of the success of HTTP-based streaming technologies in 2009. The response was the obvious one: RTMP-based Flash streaming was utilized by many Level 3 customers, and Level 3 was adopting those customers’ infrastructure to meet their demand. So clearly, support for RTMP-based delivery is not going away anytime soon.

RIA Stats
RIA Stats Here were the U.S. penetration statistics for the two technologies as of Dec. 1, 2009.

If you’re producing a massive live event with adaptive bitrate streaming that will stress the world’s RTMP-delivery footprint and will benefit from cache servers sprinkled around the internet, you need to strongly consider an HTTP-based technology. If your goals are less ambitious, you’re probably safe using Flash via RTMP, or you could easily justify the decision to wait to adopt HTTP until it’s available for the Flash Player.

Which Format and Player?
In making the Flash-versus-Silverlight decision, streaming producers must consider multiple factors, including installed base. Over the past several years, Adobe has documented its penetration using a third-party market research firm (Millward Brown) and a well-defined methodology. So you can feel confident about its numbers, which now stand at 98% penetration in the enterprise and 99.7% in consumer PCs (www.adobe.com/products/player_census/flashplayer/version_penetration.html).

Microsoft’s most recent statement was, "As we announced in July at the launch of Silverlight 3, Silverlight is now on more than 1 in 3 internet devices." Microsoft doesn’t disclose how it gathered this data (or even who did the gathering) or segment it by operating system or device. One third-party source, Rich Internet Application Statistics (RIA Stats; www.riastats.com), collects statistics from multiple sites around the internet and lets you segment the market by country, operating system, and browser.

Sunday Night Football
Sunday Night Football Lockheed Martin uses a variety of systems from VBrick, ViewCast, QUMU, and SonicFoundry. A private-labeled version of Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite is shown here.

According to RIA Stats, total Silverlight penetration on all devices that accessed the monitored U.S. sites was about 36.1%, confirming Microsoft’s figure, with Flash at 96%. The installed base was highest on Windows Vista computers, with a 48.9% penetration; Windows 7 was next at 43.1%. Penetration dropped to 31.6% on Windows XP computers and was only 25.2% on Mac OS X.

On the same platforms, RIA Stats reported Flash penetration at 99% for Vista, 98% for XP, and 88% for Mac OS X. Interestingly, Flash penetration on Windows 7 computers was 53%, though you would expect that to increase to levels similar to other Windows versions in the short term.

Silverlight’s penetration numbers have proven irrelevant to some producers, such as NBC, which produced the Summer Olympics and famously uses Silverlight for its Sunday Night Football application. When I spoke with NBC’s Perkins Miller about Silverlight’s penetration, he commented that for major events "where there’s a lot of exclusivity and a lot of demand, users are willing to take the extra step and run through the install process."

Miller also noted that the "vast majority" of users who visited the Olympic site installed the plug-in. However, he also says, "I think it would be perhaps a different story if you were trying this on a day-to-day basis in the news business."

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