Is this the week that broadcasters finally admit it's time for them to get into streaming media? Or will denial still rule at the National Association of Broadcasters convention?
This week's Las Vegas NAB extravaganza will be more loaded than ever with streaming tools and ventures. On the heels of last week's Internet World trade show in Los Angeles-itself an avalanche of downloadable convergence-the increasingly interactive NAB event should be a stark reminder that the "B" in that group's name is becoming as irrelevant as the "community antenna" in the old CATV logo.
It's hard to imagine that broadcasters-who still consider Rosie O'Donnell and fire-chasing evening newscasts to be cutting-edge programming-will mute the impact of Napster, Winamp or Launch. But that's where to find "Generation I" (the interactive-age cohort encompassing Gen X and Gen Y).
Ironically, broadcasters, with their ability to aggregate audiences and sell commercials, could have been the leaders into this new realm. But they were too busy hugging their transmitters and fretting about the high price of HDTV-as if anyone cared.
Of course, this is not to say that cable programmers and carriers can gloat about their foresightedness when it comes to streaming. We're still waiting to see how or when cable-modem packagers completely abandon their 10- or 15-minute limitations on broadband streaming in order to preserve a parent company's video agenda.
Moreover, the newly arrived saviors of the streaming business may not fare much better, despite their lofty media backgrounds: Frank Biondi, Kay Koplovitz, Nick Nicholas and hordes of wealthy cable escapees have turned their attention and their checkbooks to the world of streaming media.
Maybe they'll learn from the recent missteps of others, such as the backers of the highly touted Digital Entertainment Network, an archetype Gen-X program that seems to be following the same career arc as The Spot, an early (circa 1997) streaming soap opera-downward toward oblivion. But don't count on it.
The deluge of streaming start-ups-and even meta-start-ups with futures depending on the success of the first-wave pioneers-is hard to ignore, even if you're a broadcaster.
For example, StreamSearch, a young St. Louis company, offers an online search engine-actually more of a video portal-to help online "viewsers" find streaming content available on the Web.
RealNetworks-which increasingly looks like an online programmer, and not a mere toolmaker-is unveiling a new suite of services, extending beyond its recent alliances with Microsoft, often considered its archrival in the media-player business.
At the same time, Microsoft itself is gloating about the rapid acceptance of its "Media Player," along with its interactive/digital-TV technology being featured at the NAB convention.
Another start-up, Fast-Forward Networks, has taken the wraps off its "Broadcast Overlay Architecture"-a media-networking platform for the distribution and management of audio and video broadcasting over the Internet. The setup enables content distributors and service providers to build overlays to their existing networks optimized for Internet broadcasts, including streaming audio and video content.
San Francisco-based Fast-Forward says such media-distribution networks can deliver thousands of live programs to millions of viewers simultaneously via the Internet.
Among FastForward's first alliances is Real Networks. The two companies will collaborate on systems for broadband broadcasting, aimed at extending the capabilities of the "RealSystem G2" with more reliability, scalability, control and quality of service for content providers.
"Real Broadcast Network" has already begun commercial distribution of live content using the intelligent routing of the FastForward products in conjunction with RealSystem G2.
And we haven't even mentioned Kerbango and other Internet-radio ventures, all based on the widespread availability of streamed content.
This is the fifth year for streaming media and Web-casting at the NAB. Let's see who's paying attention this time.
I-Way Patrol columnist Gary Arlen will be appearing in streaming format, huffing and puffing at the usual Las Vegas venues this week only.