By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
The ultimate cultural vision of video streaming was laid out in an iconic Qwest TV commercial from 1999. In it, a man wanders into a dusty, remote motel asking about room amenities. It’s not promising. The bored young lady behind the desk recites in an apathetic tone that the beds are all king-size, and the only breakfast offered is donuts and coffee.
But when the man asks about entertainment, that’s a little different. In the same monotone, the girl answers, “All rooms have every movie ever made in every language any time day or night.” It’s taken a while — probably longer than the technoptomists among us expected — but we’re getting closer to that vision.
For one thing, according to a survey recently conducted by Goldman Sachs and reported by HedgeFundLive, 27 percent of Americans now stream TV shows and movies, up from 16 percent in 2010.
Online video has a short but vibrant history. Macromedia (now part of Adobe) released Flash technology, for adding video and animation to Web pages, in 1996. Real Networks launched the first streaming video technology in 1997, but it required using its own proprietary servers. That never goes over well in technology.
YouTube, of course, was one of those amazing Web success stories, with only eight months separating the 2004 posting of its first online videos and Google purchasing it in 2005 for $1.65 billion. Hulu came along in 2007, first offering television shows from its parent NBC and later movies.
How Digital Video Personalized Consumption
Determining the common denominators for all these advancements is simple. Networks are getting faster. Bandwidth is expanding. And service providers and content delivery networks are getting better at what they do. But those are just the underpinnings. There’s also a widespread evolution going on with other elements of online video streaming that will change the way it’s consumed.
For instance, in a lesson for the viability of open rather than corporate standards, Flash technology is being superseded by HTML5. Users can access online video from not only PCs and laptops but also from tablets and smartphones.
While YouTube has become the leader in user-generated videos, Amazon, Netflix, and Veoh are joining Hulu in offering traditional entertainment industry-generated videos. In addition, Netflix is expanding its streaming services in Canada — part of an international growth strategy. Meanwhile, Hulu is looking at the UK and Japan as potential growth markets.
Similarly, we’re seeing a slew of new delivery capabilities that enable a more personalized experience. The first interpretation of IPTV was to mimic the channel-centric broadcast pay-tv experience, but service providers have since evolved to a broader perspective of video content delivery alternatives.
Launching Progressive Video Delivery Platforms
BT announced its Content Connect program for Internet video delivery in January. In early April, U.S. service provider Verizon announced the availability of video streaming, while YouTube began offering live video streaming. The impact goes beyond entertainment to marketing and education — a company could easily broadcast a press conference or stockholder’s meeting online.
Given how fast online video has changed since its birth, the next ten years could be just as startling. Early adopters are embracing this transition in video entertainment, but it will soon reach the mainstream. It’s not hard to imagine the ultimate result: a highly individual and personalized viewing experience, available on-demand and through a potential multitude of devices.
How soon before the vision surpasses the fantasy scenario of the Qwest commercial? And when will the notion of traditional linear programming — broadcast to a wide audience clustered around the family’s single TV set — essentially become an obsolete concept?