A technology's true value is ultimately measured not by the splash it makes upon introduction, but by the actual impact it has on the habits and history of its users. Streaming media—audio, video, and animation served real-time to the client—may look like the coolest thing since the introduction of the Web browser, but it's still too early to say whether it will someday be viewed as a milestone on the level of email or the World Wide Web itself. As with all maturing technologies, now that it has made its way into the mainstream, it's novelty alone no longer suffices to make it noteworthy. Streaming has to prove itself based on what it actually contributes, or it will quickly become yesterday's news.
"The preoccupation with streaming media is now shifting," says James Dias, vice president for strategic solutions and alliances at Sonic Foundry in Madison, Wisconsin, which makes content creation and encoding solutions for audio, video, and multimedia. "As a group, the industry is now turning its attention from technology to applications—communication tools and capabilities that can improve productivity and the information experience." Streaming media is growing up, and facing the issue of supporting itself in the real world.
Companies involved in streaming express little doubt about the medium's potential to deliver the benefits Dias describes. Sharon Wong, director of marketing at media storage maker Isilon Systems in Seattle, says streaming media solutions within an organization "deliver tighter and more frequent cross-company communication, more personal and effective customer communication, empowerment of employees to 'speak' to the entire organization, elearning opportunities, and unmatched knowledge-sharing." In all, she says, "Streaming media makes a message more powerful, clear, and effective."
A similar endorsement is voiced by Matthew Gale, who handles strategic product marketing for Web and interactive solutions at Discreet, the San Francisco maker of content creation solutions for video, animation, and 3D. He describes streaming media as "another way to communicate experiences, knowledge, ideas, messages, and stories. This medium allows companies to deliver compelling multimedia information across vast distances—in real time or near real time—to implementers, influencers, and decision-makers. Companies can richly communicate custom messages to all the key stakeholders while improving workforce knowledge and productivity."
As evidence of streamed multimedia's efficiency, Gale cites "classic research" published by Wiman and Mierhenry in 1969. "The study found that people remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they hear and see."
Streaming media also introduces the element of motion to otherwise static communication. "It's often easier to convey concepts as moving visuals rather than as still images, and streaming video provides corporations with a means of distributing these moving visuals," says Mike Nann, technical marketing manager for Leitch Technology in Toronto, a company that makes video tools for professional post-production and streaming.
At the same time, streaming media can actually reduce another form of motion: the costly travel of employees from place to place. "The most obvious benefit that many businesses are reaping from streaming media," Nann says, "is the ability to reduce travel. Whether it's used for training, presentations for meetings, or intra-company communications, streaming media can save not only significant direct costs in travel, but also significant travel time, an often-overlooked productivity hindrance. This goes to both efficiency and profitability."