Web Streaming Grows Up at Broadcasting Show

LAS VEGAS (04/10/2000) - Web streaming is forcing the broadcasting industry to sit up and pay attention at the annual National Association of Broadcasters trade show here this week.

Microsoft Corp., RealNetworks Inc. and Liquid Audio Inc. were just a few of the companies to unveil new products and partnerships designed to improve the quality of audio and video content distributed over the Internet.

The high tech firms pitched Web streaming as a way for broadcasters to make more money by providing a new distribution channel for their programming, as well as a way to target ads more effectively and offer services and information that complement their television and radio shows.

Broadcasters, meanwhile, are eyeing the technology with a little more skepticism. As the number of users with broadband Internet connections increases, Web streaming also offers a way for new content providers to offer audio and video over the Web -- perhaps at the expense of traditional viewers.

"The new technologies are going to happen whether we (are ready) or not," Edward Fritts, chairman and chief executive officer of the NAB, told fellow broadcasters in a speech opening the show here this morning. "The question is whether radio and TV broadcasting will be ready to meet the challenge."

Calling the Internet "the most powerful and unpredictable technology of all," Fritts said broadcasters have the advantage over "dot com commandos" because of their superior content, stronger brands and bigger audiences.

"The claim that broadcast television is dying is almost as old as broadcast television itself," agreed Sumner Redstone, chairman and CEO of Viacom Inc., whose media assets include MTV and Paramount Pictures. "In new media, the advantage belongs to the broadcasters."

To most users today, streaming media means watching a jagged picture in a small window on their PC screen. But as cable, DSL and other broadband technologies become widespread, Web streaming will give rise to a new mass medium in broadcasting, executives from Real Networks and Microsoft said in a panel discussion today, "Webcasting: Hype or the Next Generation of TV?"

Already more than 3,500 radio stations broadcast over the Web today, of which about 300 are pure-play Web stations, such as Netradio.com, spinner.com, said Tom Frank, chief operating officer of Real Networks. In addition, 41 out of the top 45 cable and broadcasting companies are offering some sort of streamed video content over the Net, he said.

RealNetworks is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its RealAudio software, which it announced at the NAB show in 1995 when the company was called Progressive Networks. Its RealPlayer application now has 115 million registered users worldwide, and in February was the most popular media player in U.S. households with more than 20 million users, according to measurement firms MediaMetrix and Nielsen/NetRatings.

Real Networks announced today that Akamai Technologies Inc. and InterPacket Networks Inc. have agreed to integrate RealSystem G2's broadband capabilities across their networks. Akamai operates more than 2,750 servers in 45 countries which it uses to store content locally for faster access by users. InterPacket uses satellites to distribute content to ISPs around the world.

Real Networks also announced that three broadcasters have signed up to use a new service that allows them to insert advertisements into streaming video and audio broadcasts. WOKR-TV, a local TV station in Rochester, New York, will begin to use the service on May 1. ABC Radio's WKHX 101.5 in Atlanta, Georgia, and BroadcastAmerica.com's KAAK radio station in Grand Falls, MT, also will use the service, Real Networks said.

Microsoft, meanwhile, announced Windows Media Technologies 7, which includes a new media player for consumers that allows them to manage and playback content from the Web, as well as tools for creating and delivering Web-based audio and video content.

Windows Media 7 allows video to be streamed at up to 60 frames per second over a connection of 300K bps or faster, according to Microsoft, a figure that doubles the frame rate in most existing players. Using Windows 2000-based servers, the Windows Media Services component supports up to 9,000 concurrent narrowband streams of video, or 2,400 broadband streams from each single server, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is also touting improved security technologies for protecting copyrighted digital content, including a new encoding technique for audio and video, and a new developer kit that helps integrate digital rights protection with applications for delivering multimedia content online.

Windows Media 7 also incorporates improved screen capture technology which allows crisp computer-screen images to be sent over the Web using a standard dial-up connection, according to Microsoft. The feature will be useful to corporations for software training online, the software maker said.

Windows Media 7 will be available in beta form in May. A technology preview for developers is available for download today at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/.

Liquid Audio, meanwhile, announced partnerships with three publishing companies designed to show how its audio platform can be used to create online distribution systems for vertical industries. Radio & Records, for example, a trade publication for the recording industry, is using its software to build a Web site where radio stations can download and preview new music.

More information about the NAB conference is on the Web at http://www.nab.org/.

The show runs through April 13.

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