Warning, caution - there are no customer accessible parts inside - removing the cover may void your warranty" exclaimed the tag on my new piece of equipment. As a long-time engineer, those words of warning were just the incentive I needed. I found my Phillips screwdriver and began the counterclockwise dance of my fingers and the handle of my 1950-vintage wood-handled driver.
After I removed what seemed like 100 machine-tightened screws, the cover finally came off. Much to my surprise there, taped above the circuit board, was a note that read: " Removing the cover of this prototype piece of equipment just voided the warranty - but I bet you knew that already - and warning you of further tampering with this device is probably fruitless, so go to www.company.com and we will save you the embarrassment of telling us your dog destroyed this box."
Wow, I thought to myself as I happily turned to my computer and typed in the URL. To my astonishment there was a full description of all the parts and functions, as well as a fully documented white paper on its applications.
Well, so what does this have to do with broadband and broadcasters? This very thoughtful hardware company gave me immediate and valuable access, in this case, to important information about their hardware. Your Internet presence should give your viewers access to the information they want.
Many chief engineers have been given the task of creating a Web presence. Why? Because with a number of the decisions that are made regarding its eventual implementation, it crosses the lines of station technology. Not every station needs to have the ultimate 24-hour simul/streaming site. Your station should have pertinent information for your community and your viewers. Ask your marketing people to get you a breakdown of your viewers. Then ask for a study of your viewership, their use of the Internet and what types of Internet access they most likely use. You might find that almost all of your viewers want weather information and only have access to a 33.8 modem.
You can't run broadband streaming over that. There is a dirty little secret that we in the broadband world have been hiding for a good long time. The secret is that broadband today is not so broad, there are no instructions hiding under the covers, and there are no rules on how to make you a success on the network.
First, way back in the heyday of interactive TV, a mere seven years ago, we characterized broadband as anything over 128k or dual-channel ISDN. Today even with my 1.5MB ADSL service I can only rely on 128k. My ISP told me I should read my contract - that is all they committed to.
You can not predict how your content is going to be received by your viewers on the Net. It is incumbent upon you to look at your user base and develop a program to supply the proper type/bandwidth of content. The packetization and the network delivery of your content will be your future.
After no small amount of soul searching, you go forward with a streaming project. Your first decision is whether to outsource or build in-house. If you are new to the streaming game and you want to build in-house my advice is to wait. Streaming hardware is just now hitting its second generation and you can use any one of the many streaming outsourcing companies to learn the ropes: Akamai, Real Broadcast Networks, iBeam, Digital Island and Globix.
Globix This new group is based out of Santa Clara, CA, and specializes in live/archived streaming. They are one of a growing number of outfits finding new ways to address the immediate concerns of content providers seeking a high profile in the broadband marketplace.
Globix's Earthcache is a method of dynamically allocating resources to its clients and a means of getting your content "to the edge." Its unique caching scheme will reduce the network load on their international backbone by placing clients' content in the data center with the closest proximity/connection to the peering partner or NAP from which an end-user's request originates.
This allows Globix to service more simultaneous streams. The company has absolute control over its network infrastructure. Therefore it is able to connect the caches to any location in its network that will give it optimal performance and the best access to any given peering connection (i.e. right into the peering router/switch), rather than being relegated to a co-location network deep in a service provider's network.
The kind of control granted by this approach obviates the need for arcane, custom-built methods to get the request to the right cache. With total control over their routers and routing tables, this allows the company to direct content over specific network connections. Also, it allows much better control over redirection methods, as they only have to incorporate their own significant network in the solution, as opposed to having to deal with a variety of third- party networks they have no control and little influence over.
A key benefit of the overall network infrastructure is the fact that it is a "content agnostic" solution. The platform is capable of delivering all types of content, not just streaming. The addition of new content types as they come into existence will be possible as the solution is protocol, not application, based.
Ok, now you have made the smart decision to look for outside help. A company like Globix has come in and told you they can do it all - from ordering you a data line to their facility to delivering your content to your users.
Next you have to decide what format you think your users are going to want to see your streams in. Is it Real Networks, Windows Media, Quicktime or even MPEG? This will take some research on your part. In Scott Billup's book "Digital MovieMaking," he says: "If you want your movie to be accessible to the widest possible audience, you'll need to offer it in a couple of bandwidth choices on at least two of the major platforms. A critically important factor to keep in mind is that the four leading OS/computer platforms all have very different gamma settings. What appears well-balanced on a Windows machine is blown out on a Mac."
Your marketing department might be able to help you here, or you might just have to make the best educated guess you can. Because you outsourced your streaming, you can try a number of different streaming technologies.
Wireless I'll bet most of you have not even thought about getting your content onto a wireless platform. You should now. Within the next 18 to 24 months Wireless 3G systems will be available and deployment will begin. 3G is not a technology but a collection of high-bandwidth wireless approaches to allow cell phones, PDAs and other devices to receive in excess of 2Mb/s. In recent tests with a technology called wideband orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (W-OFDM), 32Mb/s rates were achieved with a car traveling at 70 miles per hour. Amazing.
In the next few years wireless devices will supplant wired devices as the primary streaming receivers. This opens up interesting new opportunities for your content.
The use of wireless data technology will grow to 1.3 billion users worldwide by 2004, according to a study by Cahners In-Stat Group. Additionally, it said that more than 1.5 billion phones, handhelds and Internet appliances will have wireless capabilities by the end of 2004.
In the online world it is hard to generate an audience. There is just too much stuff out there. In the wireless world you as a local broadcaster actually have the advantage. The type of information that will be most useful to wireless devices will be location-based. Specifically, data that is local in nature and can target a small, dedicated audience will be very attractive. You should be able to monetize your relationships with each audience member one at a time. For years you have been thinking about one-to-many, broadcast, mass communication. Now it is time to realize you have a one-to-one relationship with your viewers. Think individually.