Cable operators can expect new capacity pressure on their
upstream channels stemming from a spate of new software products that allow virtually any
end-user to stream media over the Web.
Tapping technology used by professional Web-content
developers, these new systems allow casual users to convert homemade videos and pictures
from digital cameras into streaming-media files delivered from their PCs.
Microsoft Corp. CEO Bill Gates demonstrated such
capabilities using what the firm calls "Windows Movie Maker" as part of a
presentation at the recent Streaming Media conference in San Jose, Calif.
Movie Maker is a new feature to be included in the next
consumer release of the Windows operating system that allows users to turn home movies
from video cameras or VCRs into digital movies that can be sorted, edited and shared via
the PC and on the Web, Gates explained.
Microsoft also has an agreement with Media 100 Inc.
subsidiary Terran Interactive that allows users to download Terran's "Media Cleaner
EZ for Windows Media" at no cost.
Media Cleaner EZ, a trimmed-down version of Terran's
professional tool kit, enables users to quickly prepare streaming audio and video for
distribution on the Internet or broadband networks using the latest "Windows
Media" file format and codecs, including MPEG-4 and Windows Media Audio, Media 100
CEO John Molinari said.
"Every day, more and more people are putting their
audio and video files online," Molinari said. "Media Cleaner EZ provides a fast,
easy and free solution to individuals who are using the Internet as a new and ubiquitous
Adding to the "streaming-in-a-box" phenomenon,
Excite@Home Corp. embraced Terran's Media Cleaner tools as its preferred format for
developers to use in streaming media over the high-speed service provider's networks.
"They've made it easier to produce great video content optimized for the @Home
service," Excite@Home director for TV-content services Steven Bergman said.
While the focus in this promotional arrangement will be on
professional developers, the compatibilities with respect to the suite of software
plug-ins available to all Excite@Home customers on broadband networks apply to the
consumer-oriented EZ Media Cleaner, as well, officials noted. Further steps toward closer
collaboration between the two companies can be expected, they added.
Excite@Home has also allied with Hewlett-Packard Co. on a
photo-transmission strategy that provides Web users with a place to learn about digital
photography, to gather personal and commercial images from various sources and to share
digital photos over the Internet.
The "Excite Photo Center," launched in
mid-December, uses H-P's "Cartogra" digital-imaging infrastructure in
conjunction with the photo-client software supplied by The Webshots Corp., which
Excite@Home acquired in conjunction with the new initiative.
"We are jointly taking photography online to the next
level, giving consumers the newest tools to share and manage photos online,"
Excite@Home president George Bell said in a prepared statement.
These new tools could well become a major force behind
demand for broadband access and, in the process, undermine earlier calculations as to the
ratio of asymmetry between downstream and upstream bandwidth requirements for homes and
"People are already making high-quality visual content
on company computers," noted Allen DeBevoise, CEO of Creative Planet. "This
suggests that one of the killer apps in broadband could be that a whole generation of
people come to realize that they can make entertainment content on the Net and build
communities of interest around that content."
Such thinking is already driving many Web-site-development
activities, including those at Warner Bros. Online, Warner Bros. vice president of
electronic commerce Rikk Galvan said.
"This new technology adds an element of expression to
the interactive experience," Galvan added. "People have a desire to be seen and
heard, which is already apparent in the way the Internet is used today."
Warner Online witnessed this phenomenon through people's
interaction with its "Acme City" site, which provides a template of pictures
users can tap to create virtual environments -- just for the sake of expressing
"We've seen users apply different technology and
create 3-D spaces on the site," Galvan said. "They develop these fictionalized
spaces and then send them to other people, which expands the following for the site."
Acme City is part of the "Entertaindom"
initiative Warner launched in response to demand for entertainment on the Internet.
"Our research shows that 70 percent of new online users are looking for
entertainment," Galvan said.