Dems Do TV End-Run With Live 'HD' Online

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The Democrats delivered pixels to the people.

The party went unfiltered with its own video feed — live from the Denver convention — that it called “high-definition.” Indeed, on a small-ish screen it looked as sharp as the digital TV broadcasts from CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and others (but without the commercial breaks).

The live and on-demand Internet video included footage of Barack Obama accepting the Democrats' presidential nomination last week at Invesco Field at Mile High stadium, in “HD-quality” from the event's official site, DemConvention.com.

Level 3 Communications, the Democratic National Convention's contracted telecom provider, provided Internet content distribution and video network services to support TV broadcasters for the Aug. 25 to 28 event.

“It's rare that you have an online event of this magnitude that's also being broadcast on TV,” said Maria Farnon, vice president of product delivery for Level 3's content markets group.

The Internet video feed had about a three-minute delay behind TV broadcasts, because of the additional encoding required for the Move Networks player, according to Farnon. Video was then distributed to Internet users from about 30 Level 3 content-distribution hubs.

In addition, Comcast Media Center produced the Spanish-language programming feed that was distributed through DemConvention.com and Comcast Latino (comcast.terra.com).

Many other Web sites provided live feeds from the convention floor, including CNN.com, MSNBC.com, FoxNews.com and C-SPAN.org, but only the DNC's official site was claiming to distribute live, HD-quality video.

PaidContent.org founder and media-industry blogger Rafat Ali gushed over the DNC's online broadcast, pronouncing it “awesome.”

It “certainly shows how great HD video can look online, though there have been some doubts on how it could scale without overloading the underlying infrastructure of the Internet,” Ali wrote in a post last week.

The Wire agrees: The video looked marvelous compared with what we're used to seeing on the Internet.

Still, the definition of “online HD” is fairly loose and far below the pay TV industry's standards. Level 3 defines high-definition Internet video as encoded at 1 megabit per second or higher. For MPEG-2 video used by cable and broadcast networks, HD signals are typically encoded at 15 to 19 Mbps.

To get the big-screen HD smiles and waves — and, say, see every last wrinkle on Bill Clinton's face — a high-definition TV channel was still your best bet. But surely, the convention's fairly snazzy online video is a harbinger of change.

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