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The Holy Grail(s) of streaming video

Streaming video is all over the Web, with everybody and their grandmother Webcasting seminars, news, etc. As the First Knight of the New Media Roundtable, Executive Contributing Editor Jeff Yocom goes in quest of the Holy Grail(s) of streaming video.


Streaming video has arrived, but questions abound regarding its value due to current limitations in picture size, inconsistent quality, and the fact that high-speed access is required for even a marginally acceptable user experience. In this week’s column, I’m going to walk through the most common applications of streaming video on the Web and share my views on how successfully current streaming video technologies perform in these applications.

Along the way, I’ll point you to real, live examples so you can find out for yourself whether you agree with my opinions. At the end of our tour, I’ll ask you to complete the TechRepublic Streaming Video Survey, where you can express your opinions on the appropriate use of streaming video. To help Roundtable members use this survey as a resource in planning their own streaming video strategies, I’ll report on results in a future column and share the full survey data with subscribers to the weekly New Media Roundtable TechMail.
Make sure you stay informed of new media developments by subscribing to the New Media Roundtable TechMail today. Roundtable TechMails deliver weekly Roundtable columns to your e-mail inbox, and subscribers enjoy exclusive participation in Roundtable Agenda Polls, which determine what Quarterly Update topics we drill down in the weekly columns. Subscribers also receive exclusive access to complete Roundtable Agenda Poll results, previews of upcoming content, and opportunities to submit interview questions and case studies. Click here to subscribe.
The venerable live Webcast
The word “Webcast” actually refers to any type of audio or video content published on the Web, but many still associate the term with a live, Web-based broadcast of an event. Sports fans can find Webcasts of just about every major professional or college game on Yahoo!’s Broadcast.com, and live entertainment Webcasts have featured everything from lingerie fashion shows to behind-the-scenes coverage at awards ceremonies.

With a little less glitz and a lot less traffic, a variety of IT-related sites have begun providing live and archived Webcasts that feature technology and business experts presenting information on technology topics. These Webcasts typically feature a video presentation that runs from 30 to 60 minutes, followed by live Q&A with the presenter. Attendees usually submit questions in an online chat format, with a moderator selecting those actually posed to the presenter.

Clearly, the live Webcast model mimics a live conference presentation, and many presentations feature synchronized slides along with the video of the presenter. Of course, Webcasts provide one advantage over a live conference: You don’t have to travel to view the presentation. And if you miss the live presentation, you can usually view an archived version of it, though you miss out on the opportunity to ask questions.

IDG’s ITworld.com regularly provides Webcasts of vendor-sponsored seminars on a variety of IT-related topics. To get a taste of Webcast seminars, check out their recent Webcast on Wireless Networks Anyone? (You will have to register for this event in order to view it.)

Jeff’s Take:I’m a pretty patient person, but unless the topic being discussed is of supreme importance to me, I cannot keep my attention focused on a talking head in a 2-inch square of video for 30 minutes. And the small screen actually exaggerates all the delays, pauses, and glitches that pop up during a live event. That’s why most Webcasters, including ITworld.com, are now recording and editing the main presentations featured in their Webcasts and broadcasting only the Q&A portions live.

Newscasts
Streaming video newscasts are becoming commonplace on the Web, and at least two sites provide technology-specific newscasts on a regular basis. TechTV.com Webcasts a daily news update every afternoon, and ZCast.tv posts morning and afternoon editions of their “Technology Headlines.” Both also provide news features as needed.

For the quickest direct route to TechTV’s newscasts, visit TechTV’s Media Hub and click on the TechTV News Webcast link. To see ZCast.tv’s current headlines, go to ZCast.tv and click on the Technology Headlines link on the right side of its Flash-driven interface.

Jeff’s Take:I personally love having the ability to view current technology news headlines whenever I want. Though it’s obvious that TechTV has more reporting resources behind their news-gathering efforts, I wish they would update their headlines more frequently. And while ZCast.tv may not offer the same level of field reporting, I get the feeling that their anchors better understand the technology on which they are reporting.

Interviews
News Webcasters, vendors, and other Web publishers have begun using the Web as a tool for presenting in-depth video interviews. Yahoo!’s Web-based financial news broadcast channel, FinanceVision, for example, presents a library of business-related coverage that offers one of the richest selections of streaming video interviews, and several of those interviews have a technology focus. The home page features a daily schedule of upcoming interviews and reports, most of which are broadcast live. You can search the archive for broadcasts from a specified day, and FinanceVision also highlights its most popular archives. Take a look at some of these user favorites to get a good idea of how well interviews come off on the Web.

Jeff’s Take:The same factors that work against Web seminars weaken Web interviews. If you are going to pay attention to a tiny video window amidst all the distractions in your office, every second needs to be riveting, and there just are not that many technology types who have personalities or insights that fit the bill. If I am going to watch an interview on my PC, give me one that was previously recorded and edited down to the prime content.

Speeches
It’s every PR flak’s dream to schedule the company CEO as the keynote speaker at the industry’s most prominent conference. Now, in addition to the press coverage that such speeches garner and the face time speakers get before conference attendees, the wily PR guru can also post a video of that keynote on the company Web site, making it available to the millions of people who couldn’t attend.

Microsoft has posted several speeches delivered by its executives, including Steve Balmer and Bill Gates. CNET, TechTV, and other news sites have posted highlights from speeches by industry leaders, such as Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Hewlett-Packard’s Carly Fiorina.

Jeff’s Take:As usual when it comes to streaming video, less is more. Excerpts and highlights from a speech, running no more than a few minutes, can be interesting and can give Web users the feeling that they “were there.” This is especially true when you add an introduction that places the speaker’s remarks in context. But trying to watch a 30-minute-or-longer speech in its entirety online is unbearable. Visit Microsoft.com and take a look at Bill Gate’s SafeNet 2000 keynote from December, presented in its entirety. Then, view CNET’s highlights from Fiorina’s Comdex keynote in November, and you’ll see what I mean.

So, what do you think?
I’ve told you what I think about these uses of streaming video, but I (and other TechRepublic members) really want to know what you think. Post your thoughts and reactions below and be sure to participate in TechRepublic’s Streaming Video Survey. The more members who participate, the better our results will be, so take the survey right now.

TechRepublic cofounder and Executive Contributing Editor Jeff Yocom is on a mission to help IT executives and managers leverage new media in all its forms: streaming audio, digital video, wireless—you name it. Yocom searches the virtual and real worlds for new media developments and engages TechRepublic members in illuminating discussions to keep you up-to-date on real-world applications of new media technologies.

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