"One of the key emerging trends is in the diversity of content broadcasters that are gaining a foothold in a market presently dominated by sports and entertainment," says Paul Summers, chief executive officer at VitalStream, Inc. "This growing list includes corporations of all sizes, film studios, video-on-demand, pay-per-view service providers, and ebusiness operators."
The Irving, California-based company (a subsidiary of Sensar) is itself also quite diverse, offering a whole range of products and services that enable the digital broadcast of audio and video content and other communications via the Internet. Among these services are audio and video streaming, Web conferencing, advanced media hosting, payment processing, and consulting.
VitalStream aims to provide the kind of "point and click" distribution simplicity that allows customers to focus on their core business, according to Tim Napoleon, marketing programs manager for VitalStream. "The video content is the easy part. Any garage band with a camcorder can create content," says Napoleon. "But the distribution gets tricky, and that's where we come in. Our mission statement is to make the distribution of rich media on the Internet and IP networks easy and affordable."
Another aspect of VitalStream's diversity-oriented marketing philosophy is the goal of democratizing streaming video, to bring it to the common man, says Napoleon. "We want to level the playing field for content creators. We're trying to champion the industry, to get people who've never done this sort of thing before."
Napoleon points to Onestopgospel.com, as an example of a small, niche-oriented business that is currently profiting from the use of streaming media. Onestopgospel.com is an ebusiness retailer of Christian/Gospel music, videos and books that uses VitalStream's MediaConsole to offer prospective buyers a preview of content.
In a similar vein—though the music is a bit heavier—are the recent activities of CBGB's, the famous New York night club that has been known as the "home of underground rock" since the 1970s. Today, CBGB's is taking advantage of its own meticulously engineered soundstage CD and DVD production facility and VitalStream's distribution technology to garner another revenue stream (forgive the pun).
Here's what they're doing: CBGB technicians operate a video camera to capture a live music event and transmit the video signal to VitalStream for conversion to Internet format. From there, the content is sent to the CBGB Web site for broadcasting—all in real-time. For $3.95 a week, and through PayPal transaction technology, viewers can access club archives of dozens of streamed shows and events.
Over the past year, the VitalStream platform has served more than 10 million video requests, according to Paul Summers. He credits the lion's share of the company's growing success to the back-end management benefits of MediaConsole. First introduced in February 2001, the platform provides intelligent templates for creating a visual user interface, audience payment options and secure customer account information, real-time statistical reports on audiences, digital rights management, access controls, and remote customer controls over the broadcasting process. Customers also receive a full set of hosting features, Web reporting and email administration.
Among VitalStream's current diverse roster of clients is Miramax Films, which will promote its upcoming feature film, SPY Kids 2 with help from VitalStream technology. Miramax Films will use MediaConsole to stream trailers and other interactive content on a special Web site (www.SPYkids.com). Another major media company, KingWorld Productions, relied on VitalStream technology to support marketing of "Wheel of Fortune" to affiliates during a recent "sweeps week."
Earlier this year, VitalStream released a Web conferencing service, VitalPresenter, which is based on the MediaConsole platform. Used for delivering multimedia presentations over the Internet, VitalPresenter, has been adopted by Pacific Life Insurance, Newport Beach, California. Pacific Life conducts online conferences for a national audience of financial managers and planners.
Streaming Quarterly Reports
Another VitalStream client with an interesting streaming video application story is Allergan Inc., a pharmaceuticals company that specializes in eye care products. VitalStream collaborated with WhiteLight Productions to help Allergan launch its first ever "live" Quarterly Meeting Webcast. The meeting was distributed live, via streaming media, to Allergan's 6200 employees worldwide.
In past years, the Allergan quarterly event has typically taken place in the firm's Research and Development Theater and has been telecast to the employee lunchroom and conference area. But this year, working with Allergan's corporate communications and information technology teams, WhiteLight and VitalStream turned the event into a Webcast that provided critical information in a timely manner "live" to Allergan's global organization. The live Webcast has been edited to a 30-minute presentation and is distributed on NTSC, PAL, and SeCam VHS. The final presentation is also archived on Allergan's Corporate Communication Intranet.
"It was just a matter of time until we pushed the ‘go-button' for our live Webcast," says Stephanie Duver, manager of Allergan's corporate communications department. "We've been doing a video presentation of our quarterly report for eight years now. It was a natural for Allergan, a high-tech company, to take advantage of Webcasting. The feedback from employees is positive, and management expects investor relations to use Webcasting for the shareholder meetings as well."
Indeed, Allergan seems to like the impact that streaming video technology brings to an otherwise mundane communications event. Employees can now watch the message from their chief executive officer and have a live report of their financials while never leaving the comfort of their office, home office, or cubicle. Allergan reports that next quarter their meeting will accommodate questions from the electronic audience and may even support a chat room for employees to discuss and ask questions during the meeting.
"Bringing employees and technology together in this type of environment is crucial to our communication needs," says Chris Eso, communications supervisor and information services liaison at Allergan. "WhiteLight Productions and VitalStream were able to work within our existing infrastructure and interface directly with our IS team to integrate the video streaming technology into our already existing architecture. It was a seamless operation."
Eso adds, "Operating as a global company, Allergan employees need to have information that is delivered in a consistent and timely manner. Having David Pyott, our CEO appearing ‘live' on the employee's computer and as downloadable file for subsequent viewing is an exceptional device." VitalStream has other success stories that make it bullish about the market for streaming video. Summers' and Napoleon's optimism for digital broadcasting services is echoed by industry analyst firms, such as Wainhouse Research, which predicts a $9.8 billion market by 2006 for audio, video, and Web conferencing services—up from $2.8 billion in 2000. According to Dario Betti, industry analyst with Ovum a leading industry analyst firm, streaming media service providers are able to target and segment the business market more readily than the broad consumer market. "Streaming media has moved beyond a corporate fad to a point where companies can see the real benefits of the services," he says. "Streaming media will help businesses to disseminate information, run virtual meetings and train employees, and companies providing streaming media services are best positioned to aim at the business market." -Mark Fritz