What is in this article?:
- Is streaming TV worth the wait?
- Critical research
The mouse is mightier than the TV remote, and it leaves tracks.
The Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is in our collective rear view mirror. In terms of TV and video, the show is no longer about hardware; it’s about software. While studying reports on this winter’s CES, I was reminded of my first trip to a Winter CES in the mid '70s. RCA had an exhibit booth and a big meeting room inside the Las Vegas Convention Center filled with the latest line-up of RCA XL-100 TV sets. I asked a salesperson a question about picture quality. If you keep in mind that this was the '70s, I’ll paraphrase his answer: "The lady of the house usually chooses the TV, and her brand and model choice is usually based on size and cabinet style. Picture quality is never an issue."
Fast forward to last month’s CES. RCA is barely a footnote. So are the XL100s, VHS machines and TV consoles that ended up in basements, garages and landfills. Today’s TV and video recorders/players are commodity items. If you want your TV in a Mediterranean cabinet, you’ll have to buy or build one yourself. Picture quality is defined by pixels, bits and industry standards, not by design, cost-cutting and analog technology as it once was. Other than size, most new TVs look nearly the same, power on or power off. That’s my opinion, anyway. Now, let’s talk about something a little closer to home.
Streaming or RF?
Broadcasting traditional over the air (OTA) RF is like spraying a fire hose in the dark. You’ll probably soak some viewers, hit some others with mist and maybe even get an estimate of how many, but you will not likely find out who, where or how wet they got. Questions of exactly who is in the audience have perplexed sales managers, station managers, advertisers and owners since before Arthur Nielsen began providing statistical analysis to radio broadcasters about 80 years ago. In 1950, Nielsen added TV ratings, using essentially the same methods Nielsen and his organization had developed for radio. The question of who is watching remains one of the largest unanswered questions in the broadcasting industry.
Besides broadcasting over the air, most DTV stations are maintaining sophisticated websites with links to streaming video clips. Some are hosted locally; most are in the cloud. Besides the obvious, the main difference between OTA broadcasting and streaming is that you can harvest all kinds of detailed metrics and statistics from streaming viewers to help shed light on the “who, where and how long” questions.
The other difference is that streaming has unique ongoing costs most local broadcasters are still learning about. While broadcasters seems to agree that a strong Internet presence is necessary, fewer at stations and groups seem to agree on how much to budget for it or how good it should be. If good enough is good enough, how do you define "good enough"?
The introduction of HTML5, Flash, Silverlight and Quicktime/iOS made it possible for an integrated analytics plug-in to run inside media players. Such a plug-in can report user actions such as start, stop, rewind and abandonment, while measuring performance metrics such as bandwidth, startup delays and rebuffering events.
Analytics technology can be highly useful in building a case that good enough is not good enough. If, for example, a content provider can use the plug-in to scientifically determine that video freezes cause people to view 5 percent fewer minutes of content, that fact can be correlated into lost ad impressions and, ultimately, lost revenues. When scientific data is converted to lost dollars and cents, it can easily establish a solid foundation to justify investing in better performing network services.
Akamai Technologies is a popular Internet content delivery network that also makes a widely used media analytics plug-in. According to Akamai’s website, its global traffic is about 21 million HTTP hits per second. Not coincidentally, Akamai is also based in Cambridge, MA, home of MIT.
One of Akamai’s co-founders, Tom Leighton, was an applied mathematics professor and head of the Algorithms Group at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science. The other co-founder, Daniel Lewin, was an MIT graduate student. Together, they developed algorithms to control dynamic routing of content and founded Akamai.
Paul Sagan, former president of Time Inc. New Media, joined Akamai in 1999. Sagan founded Road Runner and also helped start NY1 News. He was named Akamai’s COO and eventually became president. That same year, Akamai began commercial service. About two years later, co-founder Daniel Lewin died on Sept. 11, 2001. He was aboard American Airlines flight 11.