The biggest worry that most IT staffs have at the inception of a streaming media project usually ends up being a nonissue, according to Jim Denney, director of product marketing at iBEAM. “A lot of people, especially in the IT organization, automatically think, ‘What do I need to do to my IT infrastructure to make this happen?’” Denney said. “For outbound [streaming media] projects, the answer is usually nothing.”

IBEAM is one of the major players in the content distribution network (CDN) market, listing big-time media companies like Warner Bros., Sony, and AtomFilms among its clients. But Denney said that a growing portion of iBEAM’s business is enterprise customers who are using streaming media for a multitude of “inbound” and “outbound” communications projects. While these enterprise customers account for roughly half of iBEAM’s current business, Denney said that he expects them to account for two-thirds of his company’s 2001 revenues. I recently talked with Denney about how the IT staffs of iBEAM’s clients approach streaming media projects, and he had some great advice for Roundtable members as their organizations make that move.
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.
Inbound and outbound streaming media often lead to the same place
Denney said that most of iBEAM’s enterprise clients are looking for both audio and video streaming services, but that’s not his company’s primary means of classifying projects. Instead, iBEAM divides streaming media projects into two main categories: inbound projects, which deliver streaming media to employees or other individuals inside an organization; and outbound projects, which are aimed at consumers, customers, or others outside of the internal network. Inbound and outbound projects usually require major differences in planning and implementing on the IT side of new media projects.

Outbound projects typically require the assistance of vendors like iBEAM to deliver streaming media to a wider audience that is more geographically disparate, resulting in minimal demands on the company’s own infrastructure. The ease of allowing someone else to deal with hosting issues makes outbound projects a relatively painless place to start, even for companies and IT organizations that have no experience with streaming media. “Many start working with us on outbound projects, then move their message inward,” Denney said.

On the other hand, he added that many progressive IT organizations start out developing inbound streaming media projects in-house because the hosting and other technical requirements are manageable. After cutting their teeth delivering up company meetings, seminars, or training videos on their intranets, Denney said, “they move to an outside vendor as they realize the possibilities of outbound applications.” Whether they start with inbound or outbound projects, however, Denney said that many organizations move quickly to working on a mixture of both.

According to Denney, the enterprise applications of streaming media are varied, ranging from internal seminars and CEO speeches to staff sales training and product training for customers. One growing client base Denney mentioned is financial services. “They’re using streaming services to do virtual road shows, convey research, present financial seminars, and do things like morning calls,” he said.

Denney said that clients usually have as little trouble justifying the cost of streaming media projects as they do coming up with new uses for the technology. “Typically, it’s got a pretty good ROI story,” he said. Denney cited one example of a client who halved its monthly sales-training costs after shifting from a program that combined print and satellite television to one that used Internet-delivered text and video.

Continue to the next page of this column to read Denney’s advice for IT staffs working on new media projects.

Clear objectives and planning lead to streaming success
When asked to define the keys to unlocking the potential of streaming media in the enterprise setting, Denney offered three pieces of advice:

  • Know your business objectives.
  • Allocate your internal and external staff resources clearly.
  • Plan realistically without assuming a worst-case scenario.

Like all technology efforts, Denney said, streaming media projects must flow from clearly understood business objectives if they are to be successful. “What are you trying to accomplish? That’s the driver. That’s what will determine the tools you use.”

When planning streaming media projects, determine which parts of the project you will manage internally and which parts you will parcel out to vendors. “Are you going to dedicate IT resources to manage it, or do you want someone to manage it for you?” Denney asked. These decisions are especially important in a streaming media project that includes varied responsibilities, including content creation, post production work, and hosting.

Denney added that you don’t have to provide for the eventuality that every member of your potential audience will hit your streaming media server at the same time. Thanks to the always-available characteristic of streaming media, that just won’t happen, whether you are targeting all of your company’s employees or every user of the Internet, Denney said. “If you are working on an inbound project at a company with 10,000 employees, you don’t have to be ready for 10,000 people to access the media at the same time,” he said.

Overall, Denney said that the key to deploying streaming media successfully is to make it one part of your overall communications strategy. “Our most successful customers have adopted this into their daily or monthly routines, their classic communications strategies,” he said.

Roundtable members curious about streaming format choices
The hot topic among questions for Denney from members of the New Media Roundtable was the streaming media format war being waged by Microsoft and RealNetworks. Some wanted to know how they should choose a format for their own projects.

Denney said that many clients come to iBEAM with a clear predisposition to use either Microsoft’s Windows Media Player formats or RealNetworks’ RealAudio and RealVideo formats. For those who don’t have a preference, iBEAM’s advice is pretty straightforward. “If it’s internal, your IT organization is going to have chosen a standard viewer that everyone is going to have installed,” Denney said. “Typically, if it’s outbound, you’re going to offer both.”

While hosting streaming video in both formats does add to the overall cost of a project, Denney said the increase is not usually prohibitive. However, he said that both formats are so common that many users end up with both players installed on their machines, so going with one or the other is not likely to cripple an outbound project.

“You’re better off choosing both, but if you have to choose one, there’s not a big risk going with either one over the other.”

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.

What new media topics are important to you? Post a comment or send us an e-mail.