NYC TV Week: Is The Internet Ready For HD Streaming?

To Retain Its Video Relevancy, the Internet Will Need To Scale Up To Handle The Load

NEW YORK -- Can the Internet scale to handle a massive amount of high-quality video? That was one of the questions posed here Wednesday on a panel discussion centered on the “Future of Content Distribution.”

“It will certainly have to do that to remain relevant,” as consumers look for ways to access all their content wherever they are, Richard Buchanan, vice president and general manager of the Comcast Media Center, said in response to questions from session moderator Richard Greenfield, managing director, media and technology for BTIG.

Buchanan said he expects that the Internet will support the kind of scale required to deliver live HD streams, but acknowledged that it will require more efficient compression technologies to help pull it off.

But distributing everything in HD format via the Internet may not be a requirement for live sports events. Some consumers might be willing to endure some trade-offs. “They want to see that live content wherever they are, [so] they may tolerate less quality.”

But the Internet has already shown that it’s capable of handling a massive number of simultaneous video streams, said Laura Lee, director of content partnerships at YouTube, which helped to serve up Web coverage of Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos jump from the edge of space. The Internet “transcended an amazing action sports moment,” she said.

And the Internet is giving content owners open access to a distribution channel that they can pursue along the path toward linear and other outlets. Plus, the Internet offers them the ability to make a personal connection that they can’t get elsewhere, said Kelly Day, CEO of Blip.

Creators always want to get closer to their fans…that’s what’s unique about that medium,” she said, noting that the Internet, and revenue sharing options offered by Blip and others, offers some content owners a more economically attractive model when compared to licensing.

But some platforms are better than others when it comes to distribution, said Allen DeBevoise, chairman and CEO of Machinima, a company that has developed a global entertainment network for gamers that features gameplay videos, trailers and original series. While services such as YouTube are important to the ecosystem, he noted that Machinima tailored an app specific to the Xbox that could be lit up while the user was playing a video game.

But attitudes about the effectiveness of Internet distribution can vary depending on whether we’re talking about an incumbent provider of content or a newcomer that is looking for new ways to reach fans.

Incumbents, Buchanan said, are sometimes afraid that they might cannibalize their audience with Internet distribution, but argued that they can also find plenty of complementary value in this new delivery channel. “They can extend their brand further by going across platforms.”