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Generic Media: Expanding in Many Directions

Generic Media (www.genericmedia.com) announced a deal with Akamai last week that will allow its customers to take advantage of Akamai's content delivery network. The deal with Akamai ( www.akamai.com) isn't exclusive, according to Peter Hoddie, chief executive officer of Generic Media. Rather, this is just the first such partnering with a CDN, he said.

Generic's publishing service — unveiled earlier this year — allows content owners to stream a variety of formats (Real, Microsoft, QuickTime, etc.), at a variety of pre-selected bandwidths. Customers need only one high-quality source file, usually in MPEG-1 format, for hosting and transcoding by Generic, and delivery to the end-user in the appropriate streaming format.

The deal with Akamai rounds out Generic's content delivery platform. David Frederick, director of product marketing at Generic, said that integration with Akamai is easy. "Content owners get a one-stop shop from us," he said. "We want to make it as flexible as possible, so [customers] change zero URLs." Customers either supply their Akamai account number to Generic Media, or they can open a new Akamai account.

According to Frederick, customers using Akamai can include a "flag" that tells Generic to deliver via Akamai, rather than through Generic's server farm in Silicon Valley. Hoddie calls this "edge cache on demand," where users drive the demand for content delivery, unlike some content delivery solutions where content owners manage and populate caches themselves. "This way you know it's stuff people want to see, rather than speculate what content might be popular. This is much more adaptable," said Hoddie.

But some content owners do prefer to micro-manage their content. Frederick admitted that there are different approaches. "Our position on CDNs is we're generic on content," he said.

Interestingly, Frederick claims there's not much difference between Akamai-delivered content and Generic-delivered content, saying that there's a small difference in latency. So why use a CDN like Akamai? "For scalability," said Frederick, saying that Akamai has the capacity to ramp up quickly. Plus, Akamai's distributed edge network means content is closer to end-users.

Generically Wireless

Generic also continues to make inroads into the wireless space. Its new gMovie Maker and Player, version 2, lets users encode and play back content on Palm handhelds. The point, Frederick said, is to enable content owners to reach the budding wireless market without having to re-encode their material or manage a new set of links. "Essentially, do nothing to get your content in the hands of wireless customers," he said.

Many Palm devices aren't made for multimedia, but Generic is also leveraging a presence on the more advanced Sony Clie handheld — a gMovie Player is pre-installed on every new Clie, which is pre-loaded with music videos in Sony's MemoryStick storage card.

"As our webisode audience continues to expand, we are always looking for new ways to make our content more accessible without compromising quality," said Steve Conley, chief executive officer of BLOOP.tv. "By delivering our users the convenience of viewing webisodes in very high quality on their Palm handhelds, gMovie Maker 2 and gMovie Player 2 have become essential in extending our content beyond the desktop."

The gMovie Player is free, but the gMovie Maker comes priced at $29.97 for the full version.

More Customers

Generic's "platform agnostic" strategy is attracting a range of new customers. Last week, the company announced that Cocoro Networks will use Generic's services to stream video and audio to Palm handhelds. Cocoro is also using Generic's Flash overlay technology to insert dynamic graphics into streams.

Berklee College of Music has shifted from pilot to full-fledged customer status. According to David Mash, vice president of information technology at Berklee, Generic Media makes the college's streaming much smoother. "We need not guess which streaming technology will be most used by our community, nor need we spend resources preparing media formats for every possible client," he said. "Generic Media handles that while we focus on education."

Among some improvements to the service include bandwidth throttling (so that customers don't go over their allotted transfer limits), support for QuickTime 5 and new graphics overlay, and integration into Virage's VideoLogger software. The service will also support PacketVideo in the future. So far, Generic is not supporting Microsoft's new version 8 codecs, however. "We will support them when they're available on the market," said Frederick.

The Price of Streaming

At Streaming Media West last week, Generic also revealed its pricing structure. Frederick said pricing starts "as low as $2,500 a month" for accounts that stream 25GB. As the amount of gigabytes streamed increases, he said, the price per gigabyte drops accordingly.

Hoddie said the company is focused on getting big-name customers with lots of content — though the company has yet to sign many big names, Hoddie claims it has turned away some potential smaller customers. What's the delay? "The big companies take longer to make decisions," said Frederick. One customer, Sony, is just using Generic technology for its ImageStation site, which allows users to share images and videos.

At its core, Generic tackles problems that many streamers face, from encoding, storage hosting and even delivery. So competitors are often quick to point out flaws, like lack of support for live streaming. Anystream chief executive officer Geoff Allen said earlier this year that the big media companies would rather do lots of the stream work themselves than to outsource completely to a provider like Generic. Allen also pointed out that Generic doesn't plug into existing broadcast servers, like Anystream's service does.

But Hoddie argues that automated encoding solutions like Anystream's don't go far enough. "Anystream is a good tool for those that have the money to afford it, but it still leaves you with a bunch of files," he said. "We take care of all that."

Hoddie says that one of Generic's big battles is educating the market about its services. Mostly, he said, it's due to old industry habits. "We're so new and different that people forget that there might be a different way of doing things," he said.

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