Sidebar: Just Stream It
Looking for streaming media on the Web? If it's entertainment you're after, you can find plenty of sites with on-demand song samples, music videos, movie trailers, and short films. And, of course, there are live feeds from professional and amateur radio stations, and programming-mostly news and sports-on sites operated by traditional media outlets. But what about the sites of mainstream companies whose business has no connection with audio or visual media?
The most common multimedia found on the public sites of such businesses is Flash animation. Flash isn't streaming, however, because the files download in their entirety before playing. True streaming-video in particular, it turns out-is still a rarity. Nonetheless, you can get a taste of how streaming video is used in the consumer sphere from brands like Coca-Cola and Nike.
At www.nike.com/usa, video is used to reinforce the company's edgy, "just-do-it" positioning. The prominently featured "Play" section of the site features QuickTime video clips apparently sent in by regular folks documenting their feats of athletic prowess. Visitors to the site can rate the clips ("totally sick," "I could do that," or "zzzzzzzzzz"), and are encouraged to send in their own. There's also a schedule posted announcing Nike film shoots in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and asking for input on what would be hip to shoot in each city. By creating a venue for people to see and be seen "doing it," Nike is using streaming video to involve customers in promotion of the brand.
At Coca-Cola, the focus is on reinforcing the current "Life Tastes Good" messaging with a gallery of TV spots (for Windows Media, QuickTime, and Real players) that have aired in the campaign worldwide. Meanwhile, the site's Spill It section encourages customers to submit stories about their own special "Coca-Cola moments." The stories are posted for others to read and vote on, and each month the most popular story is chosen to be filmed and posted on the site. As with Nike, the company appears to be hoping that customer-generated streaming content will add a refreshing new flavor to its menu of promotional strategies.
Sidebar: Streaming On the Inside
If your business involves creating media that can be streamed, then posting samples of your work on the Web gives potential clients an easy way to get a first impression. Advertising company BBDO Worldwide, for instance, uses QuickTime clips (www.bbdo.com/new) to showcase TV commercials made for clients such as Pepsi and Guinness. For most companies, however, the focus of streaming media activity isn't on the public Web, but rather behind closed doors on private sites or on the company intranet. Here, streaming is increasingly used for training, collaboration, customer/investor relations, and other forms of two-way (or multidirectional) communication.
One of the most promising areas for corporate streaming is in Web conferencing. Building on the ubiquitous business presentation, network-based approaches offer a potentially cheaper and easier alternative to traditional video conferencing for real-time, multisite meetings. According to Felicity Wohltman, director of strategic marketing at WebEx, they also allow software and Web application providers to directly demonstrate and support their offerings over the Web.
Perhaps most significantly, Web conferencing has the potential to fundamentally change the way people work together when they're not all in the same location. "Web conferencing can actually enable collaboration and knowledge-sharing among business professionals that may not even have been able to meet before in person," says Kathryn Romley, marketing manager for PlaceWare.
With Placeware, as well as competing systems such as WebEx and Evoke, presentation data is not "pre-cached" to participants' machines before meetings begin, but rather is streamed as it is presented. That allows the participants to view the current state of an application (or the entire desktop) running on the machine of the meeting's "host." In some systems, the host can even cede control of the application to other participants, enabling true multiuser remote collaboration. Other Web-conferencing vendors, such as e-StudioLive (www.e-studiolive.com), emphasize video support, with turnkey solutions for building web-delivered presentations around a live, streamed video feed.
"We've used Web demonstrations both internally and externally," says Sarah Henderson, account executive at HigherMarkets in San Francisco, an Evoke customer. "In addition to internal sales meetings and training sessions, applications to date include using Web conferences to introduce our product to college business officers throughout the U.S. and Canada, and also to demonstrate our catalog solutions to businesses. We've found the Web conferences very effective for each of these applications."