Convention Webcast to Use Streaming Media

FRAMINGHAM (07/28/2000) - In six weeks, IT managers will get a live demonstration of large-scale - really large-scale - webcasting when the Democratic Convention goes live over the Internet.

The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) hopes to webcast interactive, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the party convention, to be held Aug.

14-18 in Los Angeles.

One major question is how well the audio and video feeds will sound and appear on viewers' PCs as the number of people logged on increases.

During a 30-minute virtual press conference demonstrating the system two weeks ago, reporters typed questions into the instant messaging box on their screens while microphones and video cameras captured responses from DNCC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and the organization's CEO, Lydia Camarillo, and streamed them to the Internet using webcasting technology from Akamai Technologies Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Computerworld observers who tuned in over an Integrated Services Digital Network 128K byte/sec. connection said they found the audio to be crisp and clear. Moreover, full-motion video of the two DNCC officials was said to be quite smooth as they responded to questions sent via instant messaging.

On one occasion, the e-mail application on a Computerworld user's PC borrowed bandwidth to check in with the corporate server, causing a momentary slowdown in the webcast video. But audio continued normally, while video remained in sync and returned to its original performance once the PC had finished fetching e-mail.

Peter Ragone, director of media relations for the DNCC, said he was pleased with the results of the preview but conceded that the 200 users logged on for the press conference were a drop in the bucket compared with the thousands who would likely click to the convention. No one really knows how many people will log on, said Ragone, who wouldn't offer a prediction.

Sanjay Srivastava, Akamai's vice president of enterprise services, said the system could stream video and audio to more than 20,000 concurrent users and scale to several hundreds of thousands. But neither Akamai nor the DNCC would say if the DNCC's implementation of that technology would handle such levels.

Alex Benik, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said it's a little early to come up with firm figures on how many users can be supported on a webcast while sustaining adequate performance.

Benik noted that streaming media webcast technology is still in its infancy.

"[The webcast of the convention] would not have been feasible 18 months ago," he said.

In a separate announcement this week, Akamai officials said the webcast of Steve Jobs' keynote at the Macworld Expo in New York July 19 garnered an audience of 21,000 concurrent users. A total of 95,000 separate users logged on during the webcast, Akamai officials said.

"Akamai seems to be saying that [the Jobs webcast] is the biggest it's done," Benik said.

Even Srivastava acknowledged that the Internet isn't a friendly place for transmitting audio and video because the needed data packets may not arrive at the right place at the right time.

To help mitigate this problem, the Akamai technology used for the convention will dynamically map the Internet to help users' browsers find the best path to the server most likely to deliver a quick response.

Additionally, according to Srivastava, three or four duplicate content streams will be broadcast to Web servers to increase the odds that the servers that are pegged to handle streaming audio and video have all the packets that make up that content.

Akamai's technology adjusts the content stream according to individuals' connections, sending video and audio that are encoded to best work with that connection, said Sujata Ramnarayan, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in San Jose.

Republican officials are also promising webcasts of their convention this week in Philadelphia but declined to provide details.

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