Becoming acclimated

Consumers using streaming video at work will want it at home, too

Last week's issue of BROADCASTING & CABLE carried a Media Metrix report that seemed to say that the popularity of streaming video has crested, at least temporarily. Just in case you missed it, the Media Metrix Focus Report said that, while nearly all the PCs in U.S. homes have a media player or streaming-media player, the percentage of home users actually accessing content with streaming-media software slumped appreciably from last November to January for all the products surveyed: RealPlayer, Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Apple Computer's QuickTime.

The press release accompanying the survey report quoted Media Metrix Executive Vice President Steve Coffey as saying that, despite the fact that "aggressive bundling campaigns" find streaming-media players sitting as pre-installed software on most personal computers, their use is "flattening." He went on to say that, "to close the gap between what people can do and what they actually do, the industry must continue to develop content and better delivery systems that encourage users to take advantage of the digital video and audio capabilities they have."

As a broadcaster using-or thinking about using-streaming video on your Web site, the worst strategic assumption you can make from the latest Media Metrix trend lines is that you should either coast along with what you are doing now in terms of rich media or stay away from streaming altogether. Those who interpret Coffey's "flattening" scenario as indicating that streaming video will be only a so-so experience until more North Americans access the Internet at broadband speeds are in danger of oversimplifying.

"If you are saying that, with the lack of broadband, streaming video is too limiting for the home, then yes. But let us not forget, we also have 15 million broadband connections in offices and 10 million more in schools," says Bruce Leichtman, former vice president of media and Internet strategies at the Yankee Group and now vice-president of corporate strategy at Vividon, an Internet-infrastructure company.

"If you look at some of the [time of day] trends when people are using the Internet," he points out, "you see a lot of rich-streaming-media usage coming not from home but from the workplace."

Leichtman says that, as people become acclimated to watching streaming video over fast connections, they will want similar experiences at home. His current company works with streaming-media Web-site-hosting services to distribute the streaming content so that it travels across the Internet more efficiently-and gets to more end users more quickly. "I look at those [Media Metrix] numbers and see optimism," he says.

Well, if not optimism then at least an opportunity to drive up home use of streaming-media Web sites by showing the medium's potential to people with the benefit of fast access.

What the faster speeds enable is a more lifelike video: for instance, a distinction between the red flames and gray smoke of the fire that your news crews have reported and are now streaming. Such quality requires that more data be sent so that the result is a more robust image that won't pixellate if your site visitor wants to see your video in a player window larger than a postage stamp.

Not without considerable merit, the assumption then goes that, once consumers see streaming video at fast speeds while at work, they simply won't settle for slow access speeds on their home PCs. As a result, they may start holding a streaming-video site's feet to the fire on performance issues, and call their DSL or cable modem provider to book a service upgrade.

Hey, it worked for me. My cable modem will be installed next week.