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A Streaming Snapshot: Articles Show Video Industry in Transition

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One of the things we try to do with each issue of Streaming Media magazine is capture the zeitgeist of the streaming industry. That doesn’t happen in one article, or even in a single issue—though we do our best each year with our Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook—but rather over time. We hope that, in looking at any sequence of three or four issues, put out over the course of six months, readers will not only get focused, practical information to help them do their jobs better (always our primary goal), but also a sense of what the most important general trends and issues are in the streaming industry.

Sometimes, though, a single magazine issue inadvertently does capture a snapshot of the industry at a point in time, and this is one of those rarities. You’d like to think that any snapshot of the industry would be a pretty picture, one in which all the elements are in harmony, but that’s not usually the case. And if you look only at one segment of a snapshot, you of course don’t get the entire picture.

Our magazine’s tagline is “The Business and Technology of Online Video,” and if technology is complicated, then business is even more complicated. When the two collide, it’s often a mess of conflicting goals and purposes. So if this issue of Streaming Media offers a snapshot of the industry, it’s one in which a happy HTML5 is smiling alongside its buddies MPEG-DASH, Media Source Extensions, and Encrypted Media Extensions, while Flash photobombs them like a horse, complete with teeth bared and tongue sticking out.

OK, maybe that’s not fair to Flash. As Robert Reinhardt outlines in his feature story “Is Flash Undead?,” Flash is “still a trusted solution for desktop browsers,” despite the criticism—some deserved, some not—leveled against it. As long as legacy browsers keep a strong foothold in the marketplace, third-party plug-ins will remain a vital piece of the puzzle, and with Microsoft Silverlight falling by the wayside, Flash is the only game in town. So, as this issue’s cover captures so powerfully (and kudos to designer Lisa Conroy for the concept), Flash lives on, long after many of the technorati had it not only dead but buried, vanquished by HTML5.

That doesn’t mean Flash is immortal, of course, and Jan Ozer’s “HTML5 Comes of Age” does just what it says on the tin, outlining how Media Source Extensions (MSEs), Encrypted Media Extensions (EMEs), and MPEG-DASH are helping to solve the problems that have prevented HTML5-based video playback technology from expanding its market share—namely, limited ability (or outright inability) to offer live, adaptive bitrate delivery protected by digital rights management. And even though HTML5 technology is catching up with legacy solutions, nobody expects those legacy solutions—not just Flash, but Apple’s HLS—to go away anytime soon, and perhaps never completely.

Finally, this issue of Streaming Media offers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how one major video publisher—Hulu—has already made the transition to MPEG-DASH (with Flash fallback for desktop browsers) for 75 percent of its traffic. In “Hulu’s Move to DASH,” Nicolas Weil interviews Baptiste Coudurier, Hulu’s principal software development lead, about how the company is using DASH-compliant video segments that are backwards-compatible with Smooth Streaming players to bring unity to multiscreen delivery chaos. It’s a fascinating story, especially because it’s so rare for a video publisher of Hulu’s size and stature to reveal so much detail about its technical operations.

So maybe this snapshot of the streaming industry isn’t pretty. But reality rarely is, and taken together, these three feature articles provide a vivid picture of streaming video technology as it truly is, rather than a Photoshopped image of what we’d like it to be.

This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “A Streaming Snapshot.”

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