Streaming-Media Fest Delivers Real Surprise

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New York-Although the "Streaming Media East 2000" conference here didn't have the same booth traffic or high-profile venue as some cable-industry shows, the three-day event, which boasted 15,000 attendees, had plenty of buzz.

The biggest announcement at the show was also one of the most surprising. Streaming-technology vendor RealNetworks Inc.'s CEO, Rob Glaser, made news in his keynote speech by saying his company would provide support for its main competitor, Apple Computer Inc.'s "QuickTime" technology, in its "RealServer 8."

The move-which would bring together technology from the Nos. 1 and 2 streaming-media players-may effectively push the No. 3 competitor, Microsoft Corp. and its "Windows Media Player," out of the running, especially now that users have downloaded more than 125 million "RealPlayers" and "RealJukeboxes" combined.

The deal doesn't currently provide for actual QuickTime support in RNI's RealPlayer or RealJukebox technology, but it could be the precursor to such an alliance.

Microsoft was also active at the show, demonstrating its new Windows Media client and announcing its new digital-rights tool, the "Digital Broadcast Manager." The DBM lets content developers sell and distribute their properties in a pay-per-view or pay-per-download format.

Microsoft also announced deals with more than 25 content and application-service providers, including eMedia Studio, iBEAM Broadcasting Corp., the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and House of Blues.

The service uses proprietary encryption technology so video- and audio-content providers can wrap their wares without worrying about widespread pirating. For example, NASCAR will offer specialized programming like a "car-cam"-a service that lets end-users pay to watch the action from inside a race car-said Sean Alexander, a technical product manager in Microsoft's digital-media division.

Microsoft competitor Loudeye Technologies Inc. separately announced its own digital-distribution tool, the "Loudeye Media Syndicator."

Loudeye's product, which is platform-independent, is an Internet-based application that lets content providers create subscriptions and business rules for properties, as well as encrypting and syndicating any version of Windows Media streaming media-in effect creating a PPV model for Windows Media streaming video, much like the Microsoft DBM.

Yack Inc.'s streaming-media portal, Yack.com, also announced it would acquire direct competitor Channelseek Inc. for an undisclosed amount. The deal, which will involve a stock transfer, is expected to close in 30 days.

This consolidation may make it easier for MSOs to create their own video portals. Few competitors mean less competition for all-important consumer eyeballs.

Although all of the announcements were significant for the Internet market, only a few will have any direct impact on MSOs in the immediate future, said Patti Reali, a cable analyst with Dataquest.

The reason: Only 50 percent of homes passed currently have cable-modem service available, and only 6 percent of all Internet-connected homes have broadband access. There's still plenty of downstream bandwidth to support streaming media. That could change after 2002, Reali said.

"It's really too soon to tell if [MSOs] are going to have to deal with streaming-media issues," she said. "Right now, cable operators are providing more than enough bandwidth. For the most part, unless a customer has his or her own streaming-media service running out of their home, it isn't going to be a huge issue for anyone."

Time Warner Cable spokes-man Mike Luftman agreed. "I think as far as streaming video to PCs via cable modems, Time Warner and [merger partner America Online Inc.] are very clear on their approach to this. It's something we want to be able to provide and would not impede. We're not an opponent of it at all."

There were several announcements that should interest MSOs.

Streambox.com Inc., an Internet start-up, unveiled its "StreamboxTV," a new broadband technology that allows for broadcast-quality digital video to be streamed over the Internet.

The technology-MPEG-2 (Moving Picture Expert Group) digital video over Internet protocol-will launch first over private networks, with support for the digital-subscriber-line and cable markets expected soon.

The technology makes it possible to offer video-on-demand and searching of one year's worth of 500 aggregated content channels. Streambox-TV will feature more than 1 million channels of streaming-media content, including DVD-quality movies, MP3s, radio stations and broadcast TV, officials said.

"StreamboxTV will revolutionize the way broadband entertainment is consumed, delivered and aggregated," CEO Bob Hildeman said. "While it will debut in hotels and networked communities, within three years, we project wide home usage as bandwidth ramps up. Eventually, this technology will let users watch any movie, any program, anytime."

In other VOD news, streaming-movie service MeTV.com and RPK SecureMedia announced that they would work together to develop and implement streaming-security systems for MeTV.com's VOD Web site.

Both VOD announcements could make deployment easier and less expensive for MSOs. But because the technology lets anyone with an Internet connection create their own video network, it could create competition for existing video products, analysts said.

"Although I'm not too familiar with all of the products announced, these are things MSOs can use in the future to free up space on their systems. They are great solutions as long as they are used judiciously," Reali said.

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