Monday, March 23, 2009

March Madness in High Def

Ryan Lawler notes in his Contentinople blog that CBS's high definition stream of the NCAA men's basketball tournament has been a great success.

CBS Sports reported that traffic to its NCAA March Madness on Demand site on the first day of the tourney increased 56 percent year-over-year, to 2.7 million unique users yesterday from 1.75 million uniques a year ago.

If there is a conclusion to be drawn, I do not think it is that internet video can or should compete with television. In this case, I believe the draw is a combination of the fact that watching television on Thursday afternoon is not an option for people with a day job, and that there are many games going on simultaneously and CBS television does not always cut to the game that the individual user wants to see.

I think the focus should be on the success of delivering a high quality video experience to a large audience, many of whom were at work. This is just another step in the direction of enterprise video becoming an essential element of the workplace experience.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CapEx versus OpEx

Dan Rayburn writes in his "Business of Online Video" blog that video hardware vendors are struggling in this environment.

While most of the vendors in the online video industry has fared ok in
these economic times, vendors selling broadcast video based hardware are taking
a beating. While many of these vendors said they saw a big decline in sales in
Q4, the real impact has been taking place nearly all of last year. Combined with
the aggressive-competition driven pricing pressures, companies like Sony,
Panasonic, Avid and Thomson are really feeling the pinch.

Rayburn notes that capital expenditures are difficult to justify.

While the retail price on many video based hardware units has come down, it's
still a big CAPEX expense that many companies simply can't afford with the
smaller budgets. This is not only the case for broadcast video hardware, but
also for webcasting based hardware, video conferencing gear and many other
pieces of hardware in the video ecosystem.

One of the great advantages of a SaaS software solution is that it provides flexibility in the pricing. A buyer can structure the deal to license the software annually and call it an operational expense.

IVT has entry-level price points for its software that allow a media department to begin webcasting across the enterprise for less than $7,000 for an annual subscription.

Of course, a buyer with a strong cash position that would rather make a significant investment upfront in a solution it can amortize over a period of some years, then the provider can structure the deal for a larger upfront commitment and smaller annual maintenance costs.

Another point: software scales, while entry-level "black box" solutions can become obsolete when needs / volumes evolve.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

187 Billion Served

According to Forrester Research, 187 billion videos will be streamed over the Internet in 2009, up 24% from last year.

In a USA Today article written by David Lieberman, he says entertainment-related internet video, as seen on sites like YouTube and Hulu, is being challenged by business-related video.

He writes:

"Businesses, colleges and institutions are leaping into online video production as the audience for clips soars and production and distribution costs plummet."

Internet connections are getting faster and costs for content delivery, high-end production equipment, and video editing software are getting lower every day.

Video communications are within the reach of many corporations, non-profits, and universities.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Webinar: Poised for a Face Lift

There are a number of reasons why the webinar format has not advanced in close to a decade.

A webcast is at its essence a "few to many" broadcast experience. Like radio, it is designed for a small group of content creators to communicate with a large audience. Live Q&A via text, polling and surveys can create some interactivity, but true collaboration with an audience of hundreds or thousands is impossible - both technologically and practically.

There have also been some technology limitations placed by encoding formats and user bandwidth that has kept the audio webinar in a predictable "audio with slides" box. But in my opinion the biggest reason for the stagnation of the webinar is the prohibitive cost of the next logical step: video.

With an audio webinar, slides are uploaded in advance and converted to the correct format. Speakers then simply have to dial in to a telephone bridge and access the webinar software with their computers to advance their slides. The webcast provider will connect the telephone bridge to a hybrid audio device for encoding in the right format for streaming. In short, the production costs are limited to the cost of a conference call.

Speakers can be anywhere with a telephone and a broadband connection. That portability is what has made the audio with slides webinar a relatively inexpensive yet effective lead generation tool.

With a video webcast, the production requirements go up dramatically: lights, cameras, onsite encoding, etc. Speakers have to be in a studio, or production equipment has to be brought to the speakers' location. Either choice is expensive.

And while having multiple presenters with an audio webinar is as easy as having another participant join your conference bridge, having multiple video presenters in different geographies is a significant technological challenge.

The statistics out there vary from 60% to 90%, but I think we can all agree that a majority of communication is non-verbal. Video is always preferable to audio-only, and the video webcast market is growing. But the standard "webinar" format has remained video-free because until recently the cost increase from audio with slides to video with slides has been as much as tenfold.

Even if the cost increase is only five-fold, a video webinar would be a richer experience for the audience but the audience would not grow by five times. There would not be five times as many qualified leads generated. The sponsor would not pay five times as much for the sponsorship. So, the webinar remains firmly entrenched in audio.

But this is about to change. The webinar format can now easily and affordably include live video - with presenters in multiple locations.

My company, IVT (Interactive Video Technologies), has a webcasting software that allows users to easily accommodate video from multiple locations. You can input video from a high end capture card or a simple plug and play webcam. The administrator can switch between multiple video feeds with a click of a mouse.

With our software, the encoding is handled by the Flash Player that is already loaded on the remote speaker's computer so the encoding process for a remote speaker in an office or a hotel room is transparent. As a matter of fact, the administrator can remotely control the settings of every camera or capture card connected, so technical people do not have to be on site with the speaker to make things work.

This brings the cost back in line with the audio webinar. In this new model, a speaker needs only to plug in a webcam to be a video presenter in a webcast; a process just as easy as calling a phone bridge. In both cases, speakers would have to also access the webcasting software with a broadband connection to flip their slides.

IVT software also makes it easy to combine pre-recorded video with live video, share a desktop for application demos, white boarding, etc. I am sure as encoding formats continue to advance, even more innovations will follow.

Another important tool I believe future webcasts will utilize is the ability to embed an IFrame right on the media player. In the past, webcasting software limited the ability to customize the audience experience. With our software you can embed active code right on the player. For example, instead of the common text Q&A experience, you can embed a popular IM program like AIM right on your player and enable the audience to instant message (IM) the speakers and each other throughout the webcast – enabling a running commentary.

This is a significant advance over the standard text Q&A interface, where viewers can submit questions but cannot see the questions submitted by others in the audience, nor can they communicate with others in the audience.

Admittedly, this ability might scare off many content creators who do not want to allow a running commentary and cross-talk that they cannot control. But the point is that the conditions are ripe for the "webinar " to undergo a significant face lift.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Quality Over Quantity

Concepts like "mind share" and "ambient awareness" can make intuitive sense, but can be hard to measure.

But think of it this way: which is more valuable: 100,000 impressions or 1,000 loyal Twitter followers?

Would you rather have 100,000 impressions or the names and contact information of 1,000 people who attended a webcast about your topic?

Lead generation on the internet is about quality over quantity.