Is Video Streaming the Future for Corporate Video?

Things have changed quite a bit from when I started in the film & video business in 1988. Back then, many corporate programmes were still shot and edited on film. Video shooting was on "plain Jane", non-SP, analogue Betacam. Video editing was on Low Band U-Matic - a process that required copious notes to be taken and a day or two of writing all the timecode numbers down for the (linear) on-line edit. Mastering was on bulky one-inch reel to reel video, that was so sensitive to magnetic fields, it couldn't be taken on a London tube train. Distribution was either on Low Band U-Matic, Betamax (remember that?), or VHS.

Today, seventeen years later, the much heralded digital age is upon us. You can shoot on DV, edit on Avid, and burn the result onto DVD without a moment's thought or any loss of quality. The only stage of the process that has remained more or less the same is the final one: delivery of the programme to the viewer. Be it by post, Fed-Ex, or motorcycle courier, someone has to take a copy of your finished programme, transport it to where your viewer is going to see it, and then play it on specialised equipment. If your programme has to cross borders into another country, chances are you'll have to have special copies made to conform to that country's TV standard, and the customer will have to pay a hefty customs charge as well.

The Internet provides a solution to this problem and is, in my view, the perfect medium for the distribution of corporate videos, for companies large and small. Broadband/ ADSL Internet access is rapidly becoming the norm. Around 80% of the UK now has the capability to access Broadband (source: The Guardian) and the figure is higher for some other countries. Here are a few examples of ways this technology can be utilised:

Let's say you run a small or medium sized company and have made a promotional video to show to potential clients. You can easily stream this from your website. If you don't want your competition to see your video (and you cannot guarantee a DVD won't fall into the "wrong" hands), you can password protect that part of the website and make access by invitation only. You could also stream a commercial from your website for the whole world to see - not just people in your local TV area. You could even tie it in to your print advertising, so people would want to visit your site and see your commercial. That certainly beats them getting up to go to the bathroom when your commercial is showing on TV, or fast forwarding it if they've videoed the programme its being shown in! There's so much video content of this nature being shown on the web now, Yahoo! has devoted a large area of their search engine to it. Visit Yahoo!, click on the "video" tab and type in "commercial" to see what I mean.

If you run a large company or have staff in more than one place, then video streaming becomes a real boon. In addition to the options available to small businesses, you can use it for corporate communications. You can show the same video to employees in different locations, cities, time zones, or even countries. Apart from converting your video into the correct format (more on that subject later), and having your webmaster upload it to your webspace, the actual costs are practically nothing - and there's definitely nothing for the tax man to get his teeth into! Your video can cross boarders without having to incur customs charges, and standards conversion becomes a thing of the past.

Getting your training message across also becomes much easier. Employees can watch the video from their computer screens. Add some "interactivity" to the mix, and you can build a training session tailored for each employee. If you're on a network, you can do this via your company intranet as well as over the web.

With live streaming, one trainer can train several people at the same time, even if they are in different parts of the world. This is particularly useful for medical training. A surgeon can demonstrate a particular technique from a sterile environment, without the operating theatre having to be filled with students. The entire process can also be recorded on video for viewing later.

There are many formats available for digital video, and careful research is necessary to select the most appropriate one. The most popular formats are:

Macromedia Flash (swf)
Microsoft Video (avi)
Motion Picture Experts Group (mpeg)
Quick Time (mov)
Real Media (rm)
Windows Media (wmv)

Streaming video does not quite compare to what viewers are used to seeing on broadcast TV or DVD. The most obvious difference being the optimum screen size is much smaller. Under ideal conditions, streaming video can be clear and continuous, but the latest technology must be used to create, send and receive the video or the results can be unsatisfactory; however, that said, the sort of picture one would see when seated directly in front of the computer monitor is not dissimilar from that seen on a 14" portable TV viewed from 10 feet or so away.

Because of the smaller screen size, it's best to avoid any complicated graphics or DVE moves in a streamed video, although still frame graphics can always be shown on the website alongside the video.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about streaming video. Some of the most common questions I get asked are:

"Don't I need a special website for streaming video?" No, you don't. Because the files are large, most free sites won't host them, but ordinary sites will. I have over five hours of streaming video on my LearnPhotoshopFast website, and it's just an ordinary one. Some web hosting companies do charge you extra if you have live streaming video on a continuous basis, but this is usually to cover the extra bandwidth.

"Ah, bandwidth. I'll bet it uses a lot. Won't that cost a fortune?" This is sort of true. Video files are large, but they are just binary files. Downloading large files - be they video or software - does use up a lot of bandwidth. However, video streaming formats are especially designed to keep file sizes as small as possible. Bandwidth isn't all that expensive these days anyway, and many web hosting packages come with a monthly allocation of 50 - 100 gigabytes, which is more than adequate for most applications.

"Some people who want to see my videos have Windows PCs, while others have Macs. Won't that be a problem?" No. Most streaming formats are compatible with multiple operating systems, and even specific manufacturer's formats like Microsoft's Windows Media, and Apple's Quick Time, have versions that can be used by "the competition".

"Is streaming video any good on a dial-up connection?" It's true that streaming video works best via Broadband. The best option is to offer the alternative of downloading the video file as well as streaming it; that way, someone on a dial-up can download the file and watch it from his/her hard drive.

Video streaming can add a whole new dimension to your corporate video, be it for training, communications, or marketing. It's just like having your own cable-TV channel - only considerably cheaper.

Shaun Pearce is a writer and video maker. Read his bio. at http://www.shaunpearce.co.uk?=art00 His latest production, Photoshop Master, is a series of training videos for Adobe Photoshop and can be viewed via Internet video streaming from http://www.learnphotoshopfast.com/info.htm l?=art00

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