Broadcasters seek to make streaming videos a monetary stream

LONDON: The TVMW Seminar: Streaming Video Strategies for Broadcasters workshop sought to examine the kind of business models which broadcasters have to explore in order to capitalise on the explosion of broadband across Europe.

A europemedia report says that the explosion of broadband across Europe has produced a growing interest in streaming media. People are beginning to pay for (quality) content as compared to a scenario where everything was free over the Internet a couple of years ago.

The report adds that many broadcasters have burnt their fingers with unproven e-commerce business models a few years ago and most of them are more wary, but still enthusiastic about media streaming.

Jens Cornelissen, a researcher with Van Dusseldorp, the hosts of the seminar, introduced the workshop highlighting some facets of the new medium that are certainly cause for optimism. Real One, the media streaming pioneer has over 1m paid subscribers. Apple’s iTunes sold over 1m songs in the first week, a user-friendly, virus-free alternative to the massively popular (but free) peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa and Grokster.

"However, broadcasters are slow to take up streaming as a serious business model," said Cornelissen. "But the potential is considerable: If, in particular, public broadcasters digitise their vast archives which many believe is coming at some point, this will introduce mass savings as video streaming is significantly cheaper than the production and distribution of video cassettes or DVDs," he added.

Examples of problems highlighted were those of commercial broadcaster Euronews, which offers news streaming in seven languages. The main problems it faces is that much of the content is not owned by Euronews Much of the content comes from news agencies like Reuters and cannot be re-sold. Their online streaming does not yet make any money.

Andy Tait, the head of Internet operations for BBC Technology, was enthusiastic about the possibilities for streaming media. The key drivers for streaming growth, said Tait, are world news of substantial import - such as the death of the Queen Mother; or the recent invasion of Iraq; and sports, where the event is either unscheduled or scheduled but the viewer is unable to watch it live.

In 1997, at the birth of streaming media (and broadband) the death of Princess Diana saw 400 concurrent streams, according to the report. By 2003, the opening shots of the invasion of Iraq saw 35,000 concurrent streams and the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein saw 44,000 concurrent streams. The BBC’s infrastructure currently could handle up to around 80,000 concurrent streams, and saw 50m individual streams requested in March.

The BBC also offers on-demand audio of its radio programming from its various channels up to seven days after originally broadcast, as well as-on demand video of BBC news in 43 language streams, as well as live video feeds of BBC News 24.

However, its very success impacts the cost base. Moreover, issues of the geography of users vs. rights management need to be addressed. For example, is it right that an Australian who pays no licence fee or British tax can watch media streams for free, while costing the UK taxpayer? And finally, the scalable, affordable network capacity needs are vast.

Ciaran Quinn, Senior Vice President of Entriq - the world’s first open Media Authorisation Network, enabling content and broadband service providers to cooperatively syndicate, sell and track online media in an efficient and secure manner argued" "We will begin to see traditional pay TV business models on the internet." As an example, he pointed to Major League Baseball’s signing up of 20,000 subscribers in the first week of its launch.

Quinn was also excited about the opportunities available in targeting expats with packages of collated content from home that is unavailable overseas. Quinn ended by underlining that as the various business models are as yet unproven, "test, test, test."

Although his description of Tiscali’s partnership with Big Brother was interesting, Uwe Schnepf, the head of New Media Solutions for Tiscali, says that the business model was probably familiar to most. More intriguing were the two other examples he gave. The first and most simple, ‘Freestream’ offers broadcasters a complete streaming content package for free, and Tiscali gets the rights to banner space for advertising within the streaming window.

As the new forms of content distribution begin to dismantle (or at least undermine) traditional television advertising models as viewers are able to fast-forward through or even delete commercials, a fixed banner ad within the streaming video viewing window may be a solution. Whether viewers will warm to this very in-your-face use of screen real estate has yet to be seen.

The other interesting model was Tiscali’s partnership with Videotaxi, which has a 40 per cent share of the German video rental market. Together, they are experimenting with video on demand movies. Tiscali provides the VOD technology - everything from storage to delivery and DRM and participates through a revenue share. Also, Tiscali and Videotaxi offer VOD solutions to third parties

None of which, however, has made any money yet, but Tiscali believes media streaming and video-on-demand is the future.

Indeed, Juergen Kleinknecht, Project Architect for German public broadcaster ZDF, said that 20 to 25 per cent of the page impressions of their website are video streams. With streaming media, ZDF is able to offer users added value beyond what they can transmit to a television, including full, unedited interviews, interviews or other content in their original language without German dubbing, and footage in different editorial contexts, for example video messages from Osama bin Laden, without editorial contextualisation.

Kleinknecht argued that the main issue broadcasters need to concern themselves with, echoing each of the previous speakers, is to "get the rights right."

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