Further Down Stream
Previously, Americans got news as presented on broadcast television at 6:00pm and 11:00pm. CNN and other cable news channels changed the time restriction with always-on news, but it was only available if you happened to have a television nearby. Ticker-type news services appeared on desktops to offer news headlines on an ongoing basis, but lacked the impact of the visual medium. Now, by leveraging low data-rate streaming media formats—like Windows Media, RealVideo, and MPEG-4—video clips of news, sports, entertainment, and more can be viewed live or on-demand in a browser on a desktop.
The financial industry was among the first business sectors to exploit the potential for instant information. The daily paper once was the only source for timely financial reporting, but today, several financial news purveyors like CNBC/DowJones, Bloomberg TV, and The Wall Street Journal offer streaming video channels, which often stay open in a browser or video player window all day long at brokerage and financial services companies. Most financial services content is subscription-based for a fee. That may run against the grain of the free Internet, but increasing content owners are exploring ways to gain more from their assets than reputation.
RealNetworks, maker of the RealPlayer and RealVideo compression format, has turned much of its business focus away from building players and improving compression techniques to establishing a for-profit business model for distributing video and audio clips over the Internet. Content owners from ABCNews.com and CNN.com to Major League Baseball to iFilms are now all leveraging Real's RealOne SuperPass, a paid subscription-based player and service, to generate revenue from video assets.
For some of these content holders, like ABCNews and CNN, it used to be that their content was available freely on the Internet for non-restrictive viewing. The move toward Real's and other subscription models is an attempt to balance the insatiable Web appetite for content with the need to generate a revenue stream. In the case of Major League Baseball, where subscribers can view on-demand highlights from all league games at almost any time, Real's business model for potential gain was an incentive to develop a strategy for assembling content and distributing it over the Web.
Still, the Web is also a boon for simply disseminating information and video can be among the most helpful and explicit ways to get a message across. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, for example, has literally dozens of streaming and downloadable video clips to teach consumers how to use products safely—like proper fitting of bike helmets and infant car seats—and be smart about protecting children from otherwise ordinary hazards around the household.
Digital Video Domination
Companies didn't just figure out that video might be a better way to communicate to customers. However, in the past, using video to deliver your message meant sending VHS tapes through the mail. It may have been a revolutionary idea, but videotape as collateral material, training, or other information dissemination for business often never made it into a VCR for playback at all because VCRs weren't readily available in business settings. While there are many applications in which intranet or Internet delivery has an edge by allowing "one-click" access to video content, there are many cases in which customers will want to have the video content on hand or where file-size would still prove to be a formidable limitation to streaming delivery. But, with the advent of digital video comes other opportunities for tangible distribution methods including CD-ROM and DVD, both of which immediately offer an advantage over VHS playback as it's difficult to find a corporate computer that can't playback one or both.
While CD-ROMs do have size limitations as compared to DVD, they can fit about an hour of MPEG-1, VHS-like video quality, or about 20 minutes of DVD quality MPEG-2, and players are ubiquitous in personal computers. Just about any mildly up-to-date computer can play MPEG-1 video without any proprietary hardware or special equipment. Most consumer DVD players can also play MPEG-1 as long as they comply with the more than ten-year-old VideoCD format, which makes the hope of getting a disc played back a lot more likely than sending tape.
DVDs can fit about two hours of high-quality MPEG-2 video, although DVD-ROMs basically function as large 4.7GB versions of CD-ROMs as they can hold any kind of data from spreadsheets to snapshots and any format of video that can be read by a computer. For example, Total Training offers video-based training material on creative design applications like Adobe's Photoshop, Illustrator, and In-Design including sample source files and tutorial lessons delivered on DVD or several CD-ROMs.
Yet, it is DVD-Video-formatted discs, using high-quality MPEG-2 video, which can also be read by consumer DVD players that provide the optimal way to deliver video via a disc. Hollywood videos rented from the corner video store are all in the DVD-Video format, but it doesn't take a company the size of Disney to create DVD-Videos for mass distribution. Affordable and effective desktop editing and DVD authoring software was needed for tiny Universe Productions to create and distribute an educational title modestly entitled The Universe, using footage of the sun, the planets, nebulas, star clusters, and more from NASA.