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A Decade of StreamingMedia.com

The shows were as frenetic and fast-paced as the industry growth. The parties were equally interesting, whether at The Agenda in downtown San Jose, Calif., the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., or—a personal favorite—the Ministry of Sound in London.

The shows in those days attracted an extremely high level of industry attendees, as well as industry luminaries. Mark Cuban, after starting Broadcast.com in his dorm as a way to listen to sports games from distant cities—the streaming audio equivalent of the decades-old shortwave radio—would entertain us all with his predictions of where the industry was heading, before heading off to buy his own sports team and roll into high-definition broadcast.

Martin Tobias, founder of Encoding.com (which later became Loudeye, then was broken into several pieces), was always popular at the shows, although the entourage could get to be a bit much. He told me in an October 1999 interview that we’d never see real-time encoding in his lifetime; when I asked incredulously if he really thought that was true, the entourage started murmuring—no one questioned Tobias in those days. He corrected the statement to stay it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime in the industry, which turned out to be true. Tobias left the industry in 2000, missing faster-than-real-time transcoding by about 10 months.

Even Bill Gates got into the act, followed closely by Rob Glaser’s point-counterpoint approach during the beginnings of the antitrust suit by RealNetworks and several other companies. Consider this announcement from late-December 1999, following the Streaming Media West 1999 show in San Jose, Calif.:

Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates used his keynote address on Tuesday, December 7, at Streaming Media West 1999, to showcase streaming media as the next major wave of computing that will bring entirely new benefits to consumers worldwide as digital audio and video become as mainstream as text and graphics are on the Web (sic) today.

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser surprised attendees by arriving in San Jose on Thursday, December 9 to deliver a keynote to rival key streaming media player competitor Microsoft. Glaser announced a comprehensive strategic marketing, development, and distribution partnership with WebGlide, the developer of breakthrough computer generated video (CGV) technology and provider of an enhanced e-shopping solution.

Many of the companies exhibiting at these early shows were one-, two-, or three-person startups. I remember meeting with Mediasite’s Krishna Pendyala at a MultiMediaCom show, discussing whether video search would break into the mainstream in 1998, before his company was purchased by Sonic Foundry; a similar conversation took place with Will Law of Obvious Technology before the company folded.

A chance meeting with another startup—Media Excel—came when I was tracking down a client’s booth at an early show. I’d been doing some work with Sabbatical, a company that had figured out how to replace videoconferencing backgrounds, the same way Apple recently "discovered" how to do so with its iChat technology, which has resulted in the predictable lawsuit from the patent Sabbatical’s founder later sold to Acacia Technologies. Next to Sabbatical’s nicely designed booth was another one with a claim that I found interesting: faster-than-real time MPEG-1/MPEG-2 transcoding and transrating. While the booth had a dot matrix-printed Publisher banner with the company’s name and had only been in business a few days, I was intrigued enough that I visited the booth and later flew to Austin to meet again with Jongil Kim and Joel Walker, the company’s founders, to get a real-world demonstration of Media Excel’s technology and a chance to understand the company’s corporate culture. A company employee, who came on board later, affirmed just last month that the family atmosphere is still there and that the company has grown big enough that it hires a separate company to come in and take its booth down.

Sometimes in that era, two or three companies would come to a Streaming Media show with the exact same idea. At one show, Accordent co-founders (and sole employees) Jereme Pitts, Mike Newman, and Mike Lorenz approached me at a speaker table in the San Jose convention center to pitch their idea of synchronized audio, video, and VGA still images; I was then approached at the same table by another rival company—the defunct SofTV—less than 20 minutes later for a mirror-perfect pitch.

From this rapid growth, the need for a recognition program also emerged. The first Readers’ Choice awards were announced, sponsored by Yack.com, to be presented at the Streaming Media West 1999 show, the show many consider to the be the pax romana of conferences during the first two phases of StreamingMedia.com’s existence. Consider this: The show growth, both in terms of attendees and exhibitors, expanded in multiples during the 1999/early 2000 time frame. One report from Dec. 17, 1999, put it this way:

First Conferences today announced record crowds of over 7,700 trade show attendees and 125 exhibitors at the Streaming Media West 1999 show in San Jose. Compared to 3,500 trade show attendees and 50 exhibitors at Streaming Media East in New York only six months ago, the San Jose attendance figures illustrate the rapid growth of the streaming media industry. The next Streaming Media Show in the U.S. will be in New York on June 12-14, 2000, where attendance is expected to top 10,000.

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