Tips From An "Old" Medium

Strange as it seems, broadcasters may want to take a cue from newspaper websites to see one way streaming media is done well. I'm thinking of the Oakland Tribune, New York Post, Denver Post, and St. Petersburg Times, to name a few. The online staffs at these newspapers don't worry about compression rates or server load. In fact, they don't have to know anything about streaming media. The one thing they have in common is Videoaxs.com.
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Strange as it seems, broadcasters may want to take a cue from newspaper websites to see one way streaming media is done well. I'm thinking of the Oakland Tribune, New York Post, Denver Post, and St. Petersburg Times, to name a few. The online staffs at these newspapers don't worry about compression rates or server load. In fact, they don't have to know anything about streaming media. The one thing they have in common is Videoaxs.com. The Dallas-based company, not yet three years old, provides streaming media to more than 100 clients. Many are newspaper and radio websites that understand the value in offering rich media to their audiences, even though video isn't part of their normal business. "Our clients know they have the latest video available, but they don't have to devote any resources to it," said Deb Dreyfuss-Tuchman, vice president of Development and Affiliate Sales for Videoaxs.com, on why her company has been so successful.

Videoaxs has round-the-clock video editors. National and international stories are pulled from the 28 satellite feeds of Conus Communications and the All News Channel of DIRECTV, plus a variety of other sources. "We're competitive with the likes of CNN.com, MSNBC.com, or ABC.com in timeliness and the amount of video we supply," said Dreyfuss-Tuchman.

Some clients give Videoaxs general guidelines about the content wanted for their websites and leave the details to the editors in Dallas. Others take an active role, picking and choosing from regular story budgets or in response to e-mail alerts on breaking stories. Some just want to stream a particular topic, such as NHL hockey or local college football. "For a newspaper without a TV partner, this is an excellent thing," said Ronald DuPont, online publisher for the St. Petersburg Times. "It gives immediacy to our website, makes it more flavorful."

Websites with local TV station partners can also benefit, DuPont said, because network affiliates are prohibited from repurposing network news feeds. Videoaxs gives station websites access to video of major national or international stories. The company streams available clips in RealPlayer, Windows Media, and QuickTime. On the first visit, the user selects a player and connection speed. A cookie remembers the choice for future visits to any Videoaxs.com client site. But the player will look different from site to site, because each client gets a custom-designed skin, complete with space for advertising. Only observant Web surfers will see the subtle references to Videoaxs.

"Everything we do is unbranded," said Dreyfuss-Tuchman. "We believe the news should be branded to the website, and the website should keep their visitors and not send them somewhere else."

DuPont said just over half of the St. Petersburg Times' website's users in October accessed fresh video with a dial-up connection. The remainder used broadband access. But when viewing archived news and feature videos, broadband usage was 91 percent. "We're getting hundreds of people viewing video every day," said DuPont.

Joe Kustelski, online director for ANG Newspapers, which owns the Oakland Tribune, said streaming media complements the papers' standard content. "Our Web product is fully different from our print product·It's a value-add for users, and it's something they expect from an online news product."

Videoaxs has its own server farms in Dallas, San Jose, and Vienna, VA. It has relied on a backup delivery service only once, on September 11, when more than 1 million streams were served.

Videoaxs charges a flat monthly fee based on the level of service desired. It's even possible to buy individual clips via credit card for $75. The bill for 10 clips a month is $500, regardless of streams served. A typical monthly fee for a large site with lots of fresh video might be $2,000.

The flat rate model is understood by the print and radio business, Dreyfuss-Tuchman said, because "News happens. We realized there would be days like September 11 and days like September 10, when nothing happened. If more news is accessed in a given month, that's to the benefit of their advertisers and them."

Videoaxs.com will also stream video and audio acquired by a client. The St. Petersburg Times used this service when its reporter in Pakistan left her tape recorder running as she escaped in a taxi from an angry mob. Her breathtaking, audio-only account was one of the most-accessed streams served in October. This paper, one of the nation's finest dailies, understands the power of streaming media.