It wasn't too long ago that new media was all the rage, and NAB reflected the market by expanding its focus. This year, NAB attendees will again find numerous products and services meant to keep new media moving forward. In the first installment of our three-part "Road to NAB" series, we take a look at some of the bigger new-media providers and what they will be offering attendees. We start out by taking a look at streaming media, datacasting and interactive television.
Broadcasters, traditional media companies, businesses and countless other content producers and individuals have embraced the Internet as an important communications channel. And streaming media has been one new tool in that communications channel for a large number of Web sites. The advantage of streaming media is that it's one way to deliver rich media without the need for a broadband connection at the end-user's machine or transmitting large files that take ages to download.
Many broadcasters, cable networks and sports franchises have already taken the plunge and offer streaming video as a matter of course on their Web sites. Much of this content is intended to supplement or enhance the programming and newscasts available on television. The capability exists and broadcasters have adopted the technology. Technology aside, the bigger question becomes one of revenue generation.
Some technology providers speak of targeted advertising, which matches a viewer's preferences and even demographics. But broadcasters must decide how much to invest in their Internet presence and how best to use the medium. Choices abound for creating, storing, archiving and streaming media over the Internet.
NAB 2001 will have a different feel from NAB 2000 when it comes to streaming media. For example, last year there was a lot of talk concerning broadband and bandwidth. But manufacturers contacted for this article didn't discuss bandwidth. The assumption is that audiences checking out sites offering streaming media have the bandwidth necessary to utilize and enjoy the rich content they're about to click on.
Another buzz last year surrounded the streaming formats from Real, Microsoft and QuickTime. No single streaming format has won out. And most manufacturers are offering streaming solutions that support both Real and Windows Media formats. Many support QuickTime, but not all do so "natively."
Here's a look at what some of the major players in the streaming-media market will offer at the show.
Grass Valley Group
Grass Valley Group's WebAble technology is joined by the new Aqua Internet encoder as part of its Web Publishing solution. Aqua supports all the major streaming formats and incorporates GVG's One Pass Encoding solution.
"With the Profile, Aqua extends the GVG WebAble initiative by acting as a WAN turbo charger for new streaming media or repurposed content. It can sit on a directory within GVG's MAN system, pre-processing and enhancing Web media and doing it in real time," says Mike Cronk, GVG's vice president of marketing. "Aqua can also take baseband from a VTR or router and use it independent of a Profile."
Aqua can encode streams for speeds of 28.8 kb/s to more than 2 Mb/s and in Microsoft Windows Media, RealNetwork RealVideo and Apple Quicktime formats in a single pass.
When iBeam first began offering its streaming service in January 2000, the company claimed to handle 1 million streams per month. That number had grown to more than 750 million by December 2000, and, today, iBeam reports up to 100 million streams per month. "And it's still growing," according to Drew Henry, senior vice president of marketing at iBeam.
The company is experiencing "positive momentum," Henry adds, despite a stock price that has taken a tumble to about $1 a share (from a high of $29 in July). He says that iBeam has served more than 40 million ads and offers the means to take streaming ads and insert them intelligently into live and on-demand streams on the Internet.
"Streaming is happening, and it is happening much like we envisioned: in support of regular broadcasts, enhancing the broadcasts," says Henry. "Advertisers are seeing a return on their investment, definitely. While it's small today, it's growing quickly and is demonstrated by the growth that we're seeing in the number of ad insertions."
iBeam continues to expand its services. As part of its intelligent distribution network, iBeam is offering a new syndication agent that allows an iBeam customer to copy, distribute and manage the transaction associated with syndicating content. iBeam will demonstrate the new agent at NAB.
Kasenna and its hardware partners SGI and Hewlett-Packard will demonstrate the Kasenna MediaBase Network Edition that allows users to move content from a centralized to a distributed environment. Assets do not have to be replicated at multiple locations.
Greg Carter, director of business development at Kasenna, notes, "Broadcasters are moving toward digitizing their content, and they want to preview that content on workstations and desktop computers." The new software, introduced in March, includes video-content management, video-content distribution and streaming and commerce functions.
Kasenna MediaBase is a streaming-media platform that supports a number of hardware-based encoders, asset management technologies and streaming formats. Currently, MediaBase supports RealMedia, QuickTime, Windows Media, MP3, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and, according to Carter, soon MPEG-4.
Kasenna, originally designed for the SGI IRIX operating environment, has added Sun Solaris and Linux, both popular for managing Internet applications.
Media100 plans to demonstrate its recently introduced Cleaner Live, a streaming application for real-time capture and Internet streaming. Cleaner Live streams the Windows Media and RealSystem formats simultaneously. The software runs on a PC running Microsoft Windows 2000. Cleaner Live accepts input directly from NTSC or PAL DV cameras (via Firewire).
Kevin Bourke, vice president of corporate communications for Media100 says that people are still kicking the tires and trying to understand if streaming media is viable or when it will be viable. "We're putting streaming into context so people understand the whole process for streaming, the whole digital media workflow," he says. "It's not just for major television and independent producers. The potential market is exploding."
Bourke adds that the past year has been a tremendous education period for broadcasters regarding streaming media. "They've had an opportunity to get their heads around what it can do for them and what it can't. How can I look at streaming as a strategic value-add? How can I extend my broadcasting reach with the Internet?"
Microsoft recently released Microsoft Windows Media Audio and Video 8 compression technologies, which provide "near-DVD-quality video at rates as low as 500 Kbps, CD-quality audio at 64 Kbps" and new options for encoding media, such as batch encoding, two-pass encoding and variable-bit-rate encoding.
"Before digital media is going to take off, it has to be comparable in quality to what people get through traditional means," says Geordie Wilson, product manager for Microsoft's Digital Media Division. "In video, the benchmark is DVD, and, in audio, the benchmark is CD. Connections have to support the quality."
At NAB, Microsoft will feature demonstrations of content produced using the new codecs, as well as its latest software players, Windows Media Player 7 for Mac and Windows Media Player 8 for PC-compatible systems. Both players are appropriate for downloaded and streamed content.
Windows Media is an all-in-one, software-based platform for content creation, distribution and playback of digital media. The company estimates more than 240 million Windows Media players have been distributed, making Windows Media among the most popular streaming formats. And for broadcasters considering paid content, Windows Media Rights Manager can deliver more than 500,000 licenses per day from a single NT server. And a software development kit is available for the Windows Media platform, allowing users to customize applications using streaming media.
Minerva Networks' NAB exhibit centers on the theme of IP Television. "It's all about deployment of television-based services at the edges of networks, not just video over the Internet," says Patrick Sweeney, vice president of marketing for Minerva Networks, noting that DSL and fiber are the backbone of IP Television networks for live and video-on-demand.
The company offers several basic hardware components for preparing streaming-media content in the VNP product family: the VNP-40, which outputs QuickTime and MPEG-4 streams; the VNP-100 series for MPEG-1 encoding; and the VNP-150 and VNP-200 for MPEG-2 encoding. As for MPEG-4, "When someone releases a true MPEG-4 player, we'll be compatible. There is no agreed-upon standard for MPEG-4 right now," adds Sweeney.
ParkerVision will unveil the PVTV Webstation for News, a streaming system for live and on-demand media.
The new product builds on the company's PVTV Studio News product family and allows producers to create a broadcast and Internet version of the same program. Using PVTV Webstation for News, broadcasters can add URLs, multimedia graphics and advertising to their streaming content.
Pinnacle Systems will showcase both the StreamGenie and StreamFactory Web-casting production and encoding systems.
StreamGenie is a portable system-in-a-box with multiple source inputs, a DVE, a character generator and other production tools. A dual-encode version outputs multiple formats (Real and Windows Media) at multiple bit rates. StreamGenie can also output uncompressed video for mobile production requirements.
StreamGenie this year adds integrated PowerPoint presentations to video. "O&O's are using streaming for training affiliates, employees and salespeople," says Rod Nydam, Pinnacle senior product manager.
StreamFactory is a stand-alone encoder for media streaming without StreamGenie's "suite" of production tools. StreamFactory accepts any video input, including SDI-embedded and EBU signals, with up to four independent streams as output. "This product offers more optimized streams to both cable modem and POTS customers," adds Nydam. Pinnacle Systems is introducing a dual-processor version of StreamFactory at NAB, as well as a downstream keyer for logo insertion.
The company is also offering a new drop-in card preprocessor option to reduce video artifacts and noise. StreamFactory supports independent audio sampling and balanced analog audio output. StreamGenie and StreamFactory are compatible.
RealNetworks will feature its flagship streaming products, RealAudio 8 for Internet audio and RealVideo 8.
RealAudio 8 delivers audio quality equivalent to, or better than, RealAudio G2, the current standard, at two-thirds the bandwidth. RV8 scales from narrowband through broadband, delivering VHS-quality to DSL and cable-modem users and full-motion near-DVD quality at 750 Kbps. RealNetworks first launched RealAudio on the show floor of NAB in 1995.
"At this year's show, we're taking a proactive approach to addressing the top concern of everyone doing business on the Net today: 'How do I make money?'" says Shelley Morrison, vice president of media and distribution sales, RealNetworks. "Our booth will directly address RealNetworks' end-to-end solutions for monetizing the digital assets of broadcasters."
RealNetworks plans to demonstrate and explain services around ad streaming and replacement, Real Broadcast Network, the GoldPass subscription service and RealSystemiQ, a streaming-media-network architecture similar to a peer-to-peer network. The company calls this "neural broadcasting." RealNetworks will host its own booth, as well as a partner pavilion.
Telestream plans to showcase FlipFactory Pro, an expanded version of its FlipFactory streaming-media-production software. FlipFactory automates the encoding and distribution of streaming media into multiple formats and bit rates.
The company calls the new version of FlipFactoryPro a "universal format translator" as it automates the entire process of capturing, preprocessing, encoding and delivering media.
ClipMailPro and ClipExpress Internet appliances work with FlipFactory to provide delivery of high-quality MPEG media files over data networks.
FlipFactoryPro will be demonstrated working with servers from some of the major broadcast-server manufacturers including Grass Valley Group and Pinnacle Systems.
Telestream will also demonstrate ClipRemote, a new encoding and delivery appliance for portable applications such as remote broadcasts. Media acquired via ClipRemote can be encoded into MPEG files for Internet delivery or satellite transmission.
"Until now, most broadcast servers have used proprietary, closed formats," says David Heppe, vice president of marketing and business development for Telestream. "FlipFactory Pro addresses the differences in formats, file directories and server interfaces. We have established relationships with each of the manufacturers, and we feel we're in a good position to offer broadcasters universal translations."
Heppe also notes that the company recently released software that integrates Virage VideoLogger with FlipFactory and allows users to "flip" a number of streaming formats and send those files to Virage with the accompanying metadata.