NAB 2000 might be remembered as the show where the old media of broadcast officially started dating the new media of the Internet. Early jitters have passed, and sweaty palms are giving way to palms filled with cash.
"Last year, there were a lot of people who thought convergence was a neat word but not necessarily a great idea in practice," said Shawn Butler, product director, entertainment, for video delivery provider InterVu. "But this year, we're seeing that it's a good idea in practice, it is going to happen."
The Internet@NAB2000 exhibit area in Las Vegas was ground zero for the attention focused on streaming media and datacasting, with activity centered on Microsoft's Partner Pavilion and the RealNetworks booth.
Altogether, the number of NAB exhibitors jumped 12.7% from 1,400 last year to 1,600 this year. Of that number, 137 listed themselves in the new category of streaming media. (This year's convention saw 113,000 attendees, up from 106,000 last year, or a 6.2% increase.)
"We think rich-media delivery over the Internet is the next communications medium, and it's pretty rapidly upon us," said Adam Selipsky, RealNetworks group product manager, media systems. "For example, there are more broadband users in homes than there were Internet users five years ago."
Evidently, though, enough companies see that future to have acted on it at the NAB. Even traditional broadcast equipment manufacturers were on the scene. Pinnacle Systems' StreamGenie, for instance, was on display in RealNetworks' booth, as well as Microsoft's booth, showing the vendor neutrality among desktop video players from Microsoft, Apple and RealNetworks that is allowing streaming media to gain a quick foothold on desktops.
"We're vendor-neutral as much as we can be, in case things shake out one way or another," said Steve Raney, Pinnacle Systems desktop business manager.
Other streaming media companies, such as SeeItFirst.com, offered services designed not only to let broadcasters get video onto the site, but also to incorporate synchronized Web advertising. SeeItFirst.com, which provides interactive streaming services to more than 50 TV stations, including the Paramount station group, introduced Glide (Graphical Linking Independent Dynamic Editor), allowing broadcasters to link targeted banners or text messages to specific frames of video.
The firm's spokeswoman, Elizabeth Martin, describes a "Ping-Pong'' relationship between the Web and traditional broadcast product: Night-time telecasts drive viewers to broadcasters' Web sites the next day, where the content and banners promote that evening's newscast and programming.
Datacasting also was turning heads at NAB. Clint Chao, director of marketing at SkyStream, one company at the center of the technology, said the Internet experience can be improved by streaming Internet content over DTV, because it removes the Internet bottlenecks.
"The opportunity for DTV is to work with other components in the Internet infrastructure, like ISPs that have the backchannel," he explained. "Together, they can build business models and deliver a much higher-quality product."
Chao pointed out, however, that broadband to the home doesn't necessarily mean quality media streaming and Internet access. "You still have to worry about getting content from the Web site to the Internet service provider," he said. Even with a cable modem and broadband access that is something no customer can control.
A big newsmaker, Akamai Technologies, was a newcomer to the NAB show. Akamai supplies streaming media to more than 550 Web sites, including FOX Sports and CBS Sportsline.
Ray Weaver, senior product manager, was clear about why Akamai was there. "Many of the most successful companies on the Internet are going to be the same ones with the assets in traditional broadcasting," he said. "Same content, same brands, same expertise."