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The Wild, Wild Net: A New Frontier.

With the millennium approaching, many companies are positioning themselves for a Webcasting breakthrough. This is a smart strategy since a look back at the early days of television reveals that the industry standards were set by those companies that invested in new technology from the start.

Falling prices on faster computers and improvements in Web streaming technology will mean a much larger audience for future Webcasters. However, only a handful of companies is currently positioning themselves to enter this lucrative new field.

RealNetworks' RealPlayer G2 and Microsoft's Windows Media Player may set the standard for Webcasts, allowing Web surfers to view programming in much the same way that they watch television. Current Webcasters like ChannelSEEK.com, TalkSpot.com and RealNervvorks' LiveConcert. com require customers to download one of these two player programs before they can view a Webcast. RealNetworks estimates that it registered just under 40 million users of the RealPlayer G2 program by the end of 1998. Microsoft registered 19 million. Together, those users represent a sizable audience for Webcast programming. In addition, January RealNetworks announced a joint venture with Internet/cable provider @Home Network, a partnership that will yield even larger audiences.

Of course, none of these delivery methods would be very impressive without programming to Webcast. ChannelSEEK Communications are among the leading Webcasters. ChannelSEEK and WorldStream use a business model similar to that of free TV (i.e., advertising dollars support the Webcasts). Tom Britt, president of ChannelSEEK, predicts that his company will gradually shift to a cable-like financial model, offering many more pay-per-view events. These Webcasters are all relatively new: broadcast.com premiered in September 1995, WorldStream offered its first Webcast in May 1998 and ChannelSEEK debuted this past November.

Each of these three Webcasters operates in a slightly different way. Broadcast.com markets access to the Internet, allowing anyone to produce a "show." The costs range from $500 to $250,000, depending on the intended reach of the Webcast, the length of time the Webcast is made available and the degree of involvement broadcast.com has in the production. Broadcast.com President Mark Cuban announced at NATPE '99 that his company has penned deals with two ABC stations -- WABC New York and WPVI Philadelphia -- to stream their news programs over the Web. (Other Webcasting news at NATPE included Video Networks' announcement that it will equip NBC's newsroom producers with Web-based interface tools that will allow them to quickly retrieve broadcast-quality digitized video news content.)

ChannelSEEK and WorldStream Communications are Internet channel providers. ChannelSEEK has arrangements with the producers of concerts, short films, news programs and independent productions, and it offers links to the content provider's Web site. Some sites are available directly from ChannelSEEK.com, such as the FreeSpeech.com archives. WorldStream launches actual "Internet channels." Its affiliate Webcaster TalkSpot.com currently offers three channels: one that covers news and politics, one that features lifestyle programming and one devoted to humor. Ken Williams, CEO of WorldStream, said that he hopes to expand the number of channel offerings. "Six months from now, there might be a hundred different channels ... Hopefully, we'll get lots of other people like TalkSpot that want to use the technology to broadcast channels," he noted. These three companies are not limited to Webcasting to a mass audience. National and international corporate communication divisions also use Webcasting for private, internal programming.

One technology that may influence the future of Web programming is Microsoft's WebTV, which delivers Internet content to a television screen instead of a computer screen. WebTV Classic and WebTV Plus, both currently on the market, bridge the gap between broadcast television and the World Wide Web. WebTV Plus, which is equipped with a hard drive, can program a user's VCR, find out when a particular program airs or even search for shows featuring a particular star. This increase in control over television viewing is not limited to viewers; companies can also cash in. John Kelley, product marketing manager for WebTV, explained: "We started doing interesting things where we sort of blurred what's the Web and what's television with ... Interactive Television Links. A broadcaster can now really start to leverage both its television content as well as all of the efforts it's putting into the Web side." For example, during a commercial, a WebTV user can connect directly to a Web site for more information about the product or service being advertised.

WebTV recently teamed up with the satellite service EchoStar, and the two plan to launch the EchoStar Model 7100 satellite receiver this spring. This Internet receiver, which will have an 8.6 gigabyte hard drive, should revolutionize the television experience, provided it achieves mass appeal. The EchoStar Model 7100 will allow users to "video time shift," which Kelley defined as the ability to pause anything on television. He explained: "You're watching a nightly sitcom ... and the telephone rings. You hit a button on the remote, pause the broadcast, come back up to it 30 minutes later and pick up exactly where you left off." The Model 7100 receives the digital video stream and spools the signal into the hard drive. When the customer resumes the program, the receiver continues to record the broadcast while simultaneously transmitting the program from the point at which the viewer left off. "It kind of lets you put broadcast television on your schedule," Kelley said.

All Webcasts currently use streaming video technology. This technology allows Webcasters to deliver digital signals without the end user having to download those signals to their hard drive before viewing, as they would have to do with MPEG or WAV files. Streaming video makes both live events and video-on-demand more accessible to the common computer user equipped with a 56K modem (although a 28.8K modem will suffice for some Webcasts, a 56K modem is recommended for most video transmissions).

According to ChannelSEEK's Britt, the next step in streaming video will be multicasting. "Multicasting is a technology similar to broadcasting, but it's really going to change the market," Britt said. Currently, if a Webcaster wants to send one megabyte of information to 10 people, he or she must deliver 10 megabytes of programming. With multicasting, one sends out one signal, which goes to the Internet backbone. Britt explained: "It's not bandwidth determinant on the front end." Right now, multicasting is used only by government institutions like NASA and some universities, but it should become available for public consumption in three to five years. Before it can become widespread, Internet providers must upgrade their routers.

With Webcasting evolving constantly, the Internet frontier continues to develop at a fast and furious pace. "What's really exciting about these products is that they're letting the broadcasters, content creators, advertisers or whoever bridge the two [Internet and television] ," commented WebTV's Kelley. "So if you watch an ad for an automobile, and you're interested in it, you can click [and] find a dealer in your area; maybe even buy a car through your television set. All those things are actually very realistic and possible today." WorldStream's Williams agrees that the Internet "will be a big business, probably bigger than television in fact, certainly bigger than television." He added, "and different, not a place where people are just delivering radio via the Internet or delivering television via the Internet."

OTHER MULTIMEDIA PRODUCTS ON THE WEB

Television-type Web programs aren't the only multimedia products in town.

Sony Music Entertainment is currently researching methods that will allow Internet users to download music to their computers and record it onto Minidiscs.

NuvoMedia Inc. released its Rocket e-Book in time for the 1998 Christmas season. The Rocket e-Book can hold up to 10 novels (some 4,000 pages of text and images) in a device the size of a paperback. The text size is adjustable to the reader's taste. According to Marcus Colombano, director of Marketing at NuvoMedia, the company also plans to make e-Magazines and e-Newspapers available. Rocket e-Books are currently available at www.barnesandnoble.com.

Brilliant Digital Entertainment markets animated movies, called Multipath Movies, at www.multipathmovies.com. The Multipath Movies allow viewers to choose alternate endings. Brilliant Digital will also be marketing B 3-D, a tool designed to be used with the animation program 3-D Studio Max. Kevin Bermeister, president of Brilliant Digital Entertainment, predicted: "There will be a point and time where companies will be animating in real time. You, the viewer, won't know the difference between realism and animation."
COPYRIGHT 1999 TV Trade Media, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:JOHNSEN, MICHAEL
Publication:Video Age International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 1999
Words:1403
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