Despite Economic Downturn, Streaming Deals Flow in N.Y.

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Despite a harsh economic winter that has culled the ranks, industry players were able to report some new deals and new technology initiatives at last week's Streaming Media East gathering in New York.

Like other recent shows, tough economic times and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks put a dent in attendance for the event. But the announcements did flow, led by streaming media heavyweights Microsoft Corp. and RealNetworks Inc.

Microsoft used the gathering to showcase its latest streaming media offering aimed at literally creating a glow around consumer-friendly streaming media. Dubbed Corona, the next version of Microsoft's Windows Media platform includes servers, codecs and other products to deliver high-quality Internet music and video.

At present, broadband streaming media experiences aren't much better than standard dial-up, said Microsoft Windows Digital Media division vice president Will Poole. But a third generation of technology is in the offing, he said.

That means future formats must be more than broadband-ready — they must be "broadband exploitative," said Poole. Unsuprisingly, he called Corona the first step in that direction.

Among the Corona products is a new Windows Media Services in Windows.NET Server that eliminates the download buffer. The buffer, which pulls content from congested networks, has been a mainstay in streaming media players, but often forces users to wait in order to hear or see clips.

Corona's "Fast Stream" feature will allow for immediate content delivery, based on the premise that consumers will be more likely to view Web-based content if the lag time is cut. That could boost the business plans for such Internet-content providers as Intertainer Inc., Launch.com or MTV Networks, said Microsoft Digital Media general manager Dave Fester.

"That's how you are going to attract more customers and keep them to your Web site and keep them coming back for more," he said. "Now, in effect, with Fast Stream you can deliver this theater-like experience with channel surfing or stream surfing, if you will, in a broadband world. The experience is way better than it was before."

The server is currently available for beta testing; Microsoft plans to add other Corona products to the beta-test list in early 2002. Those include new audio and video codecs that promise to bump up content quality, such as the WMA professional codec, which the software giant claims is the first to deliver 5.1 multichannel surround sound.

Several leading DVD-processor manufacturers — representing roughly 90 percent of the DVD-chip market — will support Windows Media's audio and video technology, Microsoft also reported. Windows Media-integrated DVD players will allow consumers to play back 22 hours of music from a single CD.

Not to be outdone, RealNetworks Inc. announced a major deal that will make its new RealOne player the resident streaming media tool on computer giant Compaq Computer Corp.'s lineup of home PCs. Under the nonexclusive, multi-year deal, Real's player will replace Windows Media Player in all Compaq computers, except the company's business line.

Although Real has similar agreements with computer makers Gateway Inc. and Dell Computer Corp., the Compaq arrangement is the first through which the company will hawk its newly relaunched subscription content offering. Subscriptions to RealOne and MusicNet will be marketed to new and current Compaq customers; the two companies will share revenues.

Real also said the newest version of its RealSystem streaming-media server will support the Internet-oriented MPEG-4 (Moving Picture Expert Group) standard. Streaming media partner Envivio.com Inc. will provide the necessary MPEG-4 plug-in for the server, the RealPlayer streaming media player and RealOne.

The company also said it joined The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a standards body for the broadband mobile-networking industry. Real will take its mobile technology into trials with carriers such as AT&T Wireless Services Inc., Sonera Corp., Telefónica S.A. and StarHub Pte. Ltd.

On the content-delivery network front, SkyStream Networks Inc. — backed by AOL Time Warner Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc., among others — and Digital Island Inc. both announced upgrades to their respective delivery platforms.

SkyStream said its zBand 4.0 satellite content-delivery platform, intended for broadband service providers and enterprises, would integrate conditional-access technologies from InterTrust Technologies Corp., Irdeto Access and Viaccess S.A. SkyStream supplies origination source and edge media routers, along with satellite streaming capabilities. Its largest media client is direct-broadcast satellite provider EchoStar Communications Corp., which uses SkyStream to send metadata to consumers along with its video channels.

Unlike others in the content delivery space, SkyStream has weathered the Internet collapse and the economic recession.

"We have sufficient money and are selling products for revenue," said vice president of marketing and business development Clint Chao. "We're running the company as if no other capital was available.

"The delivery of content won't go away," he added. "But there were more suppliers than the market could stand."

Companies like Edgix Corp. and Cedera approached the service providers, while iBeam Broadcasting Corp., recently acquired by Williams Communications LLC, went after the content community.

"The remaining companies will refine their business models," Chao said.

SkyStream allows companies "to insert IP content and multicast it across the world," through scalable and efficient satellite technology, Chao said. The company is enlisting Hewlett-Packard Co. to help sell SkyStream technology and services to businesses.

But Chao also sees an emerging market within broadband for SkyStream: personal video recording. "All that content will be IP-based," Chao said.

Digital Island said it has added new functionality to manage, deliver and generate revenue from streaming digital content across the Internet. The company's 2Way Web Services for Management and Commerce will add four services, including digital rights management, digital media commerce, content management and geographic intelligence services.

Such services would allow a sports league to authorize only those who have paid for streaming content to receive it, or to limit its streams to specific geographic areas, for instance. The software also allows for the processing of online transactions, so content and service providers can generate revenue from licensing, pay-per-view, pay-per-download and subscription packages.

EMI's Virgin Records labels used Digital Island technology to deliver the latest music videos from Lenny Kravitz and Mick Jagger.

Meanwhile, fellow CDN Speedera Networks Inc. landed a major deal to provide content-delivery and streaming services to Intertainer Inc.'s Internet video-on-demand services in 35 U.S. markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, among others.

Intertainer's VOD service not includes more than 70,000 hours of movies and entertainment titles.

Encoding outfits also seized upon the conference's stream to present their new tools.

Digital encoding provider Sonic Foundry Inc. launched its MediaSite Live tool, which can capture, synchronize and present live audio, text and graphic content for streaming to viewers. The product, aimed at the live Webcast market, separates content into audio, graphic and text panes, which can be replayed on-demand.

And Virage Inc. introduced its VS Publishing and a VS Webcasting tools. VS Publishing allows content providers to search, preview and publish video clips from archived or recent events. VS Webcasting allows companies to schedule live Webcasts, notify attendees and manage the events.

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