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The problem with online streaming video

I think we may have lost a project at work today: a project to do streaming video. It’s not really our fault; our offering looked just like everyone else’s streaming video.

The problem is that our competition isn’t everyone else’s streaming video.First let’s look at the hurdles. No matter which option you pick, some percentage of your audience is going to have to download or install something. That all but eliminates Real, since I don’t think even Woodward and Bernstein could successfully track down the link to their free player every time.

Windows Media Player is easier, but won’t necessarily run on some older versions of Windows. An overwhelming number of people have Windows XP now, but not everyone does. How many hundreds of millions of copies of Windows 98 did Microsoft sell? Do you think all of those people have thrown them away yet? No. Those people will have to download and install something.

But Media Player will leave some Macintoshes in the cold. Do you want to do that if your target audience might include schools?

QuickTime is the best cross-platform solution, but again, Windows users will have to download and install something.

OK, so you got it installed. Prepare thyself for thrilling, 15 frame-per-second 160×120 video!

Translation: Video the size of a postage stamp that moves about as fast as your mailman.

Theoretically you can stream bigger and faster video, but it’s going to be jerkier if you do. There’ll be dropped frames, artifacts, and the audio may drop out. And what’s it look like when you send DVD-sized 720×480 video? Well, considering a lot of people run their monitors at 1024×768, it makes letterboxing look good. It’s not full-screen like it is when you pop a DVD into your DVD drive.

And that’s precisely the problem. The competition isn’t other people who stream video. The competition is DVDs. Computers are digital, right? So why does its video look worse than the oldest, most worn-out VHS tape at the video rental place? And why do I have to jump through so many hoops in order to play it? On a DVD, I hit the "menu" button and then I hit "enter" or "play." (Also keep in mind that some people can’t even figure out how to do that. I’m serious. I dated a girl once whose parents couldn’t figure out a DVD player, so they had to get their 15-year-old son to come hit the buttons for them.)

And that, I think, is the reason you still don’t see tons and tons of streaming video on the Web, in spite of the high availability of DSL and cable modems in the United States, the abundance of cheap bandwidth, and the cheapness of the server software (free, in the case of QuickTime, and included with Windows Server in the case of Media Player).

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4 thoughts on “The problem with online streaming video”

  1. …and a good thing too. Fact is, a lot of the world doesn’t have high-speed internet access. The divide isn’t geographical either, in the sense of USA vs The Rest. The divide is urban versus rural. Any organisation that put up web sites depending on high-speed streaming video would not only be disenfranchising their rural customer-base. They’d be DIVORCING their rural customer base, and there’s not too many organisations which can afford to deliberately divorce (and disgust) a (significant portion of their) customer base. Heck, I have problems enough with sites that depend on pictures, and are so stupid they can’t think to make alternate arrangements for those who are using text-only. I do it as an option, but what about the blind? Then someone suggests streaming video? Give me a break. How much of the USA is still on dial-up? Can an organisation afford to alienate that much of their potential market?

    1. Oh, but this wouldn’t have been replacing an existing site with streaming video–it would have been putting a library of existing video online in streaming format.

      Not a bad idea, but the expectations have to be right.

      But I’m with you. Replacing HTML with things that move annoys me like it annoys you. When I found out one of my clients is now requiring Flash for their site, I promised to beat the webmaster senseless the next time I saw him. And while I won’t resort to violence, I will ask him what exactly he thinks he’s accomplishing by requiring Flash, besides torquing off customers who can’t or won’t run Flash. I shouldn’t need Flash to view my bank statement.

      (I, for one, browse the Web with animated GIFs disabled and without the Flash plugin installed. Much faster and less annoying that way.)

      As far as broadband penetration here in the States, I thought I read recently that it was up over 50 percent now. Southwestern Bell offers DSL at an introductory price under $30 now ($28 I think). I think AOL charges $24 a month for dialup. So broadband is certainly affordable.

      1. My Internet connection sees streaming video and runs away. I’m currently accessing the Internet via a 19.2 Kbps connection!

        Also, Dave, since I think you’re running Mozilla or Fire[animal-of-the-week], you’d probably enjoy this: FlashBlock. It allows you to have Flash installed but only display the Flash content you want. When a Flash object is found on a page, instead of your system downloading it, Mozilla will display Macromedia’s “f” logo. If you choose to download and display the content a single click on the “f” is all you need. Saves the hassle of needing to see something in Flash requiring you to open Internet Explorer (or some other browser of your choice).

        Dustin D. Cook, A+

        1. I use flash block and love it. Occasionally I have to view sites with flash, but I don’t have to view those annoying flash adds.

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