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What are the 10 most important do's and don'ts if your business is considering broadband and/or narrowband streaming media? (reprinted from Training Technology and Human Resources April 2002)

1. Keep it simple.
The Internet audience is not a captive audience. Unlike corporate video where viewers are often wined, dined and trapped, these are free to go if what they see is not interesting or relevant to their needs. Your aim is to get their attention and keep it - and this means careful planning with this audience in mind. Though it is occasionally possible to re-use parts of existing corporate video, you will not get many voluntary viewers for a 20-minute, chest-beating indulgence.

2. Keep it short.
Between 30 seconds and 6 minutes is the ideal range for on-demand streaming video content. Plan to split longer items into smaller units - 5x2 minutes will work more effectively than 1x10 minutes, generating a lot more interactivity. Because you will be paying for the bandwidth your viewers use from the video server, do not get carried away by offering higher quality or a broader bandwidth than is necessary.


3. Show action and personality.

There are special techniques to get the best out of the small window in which streaming is viewed. TV news story methods work well and they focus on action and human interest. The audience love to visit places they would not normally get the chance to see - behind the production lines, into the MD's office, at the field trial, or to witness the reaction of the ultimate customer. Remember that you have complete editorial control. That means you have nothing to fear - the editing can be as selective as you wish.

One of the main barriers to Internet commerce and PR was the inability of the web to bring the people behind a corporation or a department to life. 'People deal with People' is the old adage - but website visitors were being asked to trust and to believe in text arriving from the unknown. Streaming turns this on its head by letting you show profiles of key staff - at work and at play, bringing out their personalities, their individuality and increasing their 'star rating'. This breaks down barriers to trust and response.

4. Use specialists.
Many contemporary trends in video production degrade the image quality in streaming video. In particular fast cuts, pans, zooms, layering, excessive music and complex or small graphics push up bit rates and/or reduce final quality. Companies experienced in streaming production use tripods and image stabilization. They include more close-ups and they know how to fine-tune the encoding so that you get the best results across the whole range of your audience's connection speeds, not just at broadband rates.

5. Specify Windows Media.
The vast majority of the total audience have the Windows Media Player. The future is lining up with Mr Gates once again because of Microsoft's massive commitment to the Windows Media technology, the higher quality offered by the latest codecs (compression algorithms) and the inclusion of the player in Microsoft's operating systems as installed on the majority of new PC's. In addition, the Windows Media brand now carries considerable weight and is rapidly gaining awareness around the world in its own right. You do not need to double your expenses by duplicating systems and complicating the choices you offer.

6. Don't pay too much.
Traditional TV and Video producers usually 'bolt on' encoding to existing video formats, techniques and pricing structures. But streaming video requires revolutionary thinking from the ground up. As suitable video editing suites now cost £5000 instead of the £50,000 they did a few years ago, why should your production costs still remain the same? Instead of comissioning one £20,000 corporate video every few years, you can now budget for 5 x £2000 or 10 x £1000 streaming video productions annually.

Thanks to multi-skilling and new production techniques, £2,000 can buy you a day's location shooting and two days editing, post-production and encoding - enough for a complete 4-minute production shot in a single, or several nearby locations. A product demonstration or video news feature filmed in half a day and featuring your own personnel could be completed for half this budget. The production company you use should also be able to offer you DVD and CD-ROM versions of the material for very little additional cost.

7. Use live webcasting carefully.
If you are tempted to join the headlong rush into live webcasting, exercise caution. Conferences contain lots of hot air and unless you know your audience well and the material is sufficiently compelling, you can be asking a lot to expect them to give up a great deal of their time. They would much prefer to dip in and out and to remain in control or be presented with the golden nuggets.

Crewing costs can be expensive if multi-camera shoots are involved, so is the use of a server network capable of delivering reliable live links to very large audiences simultaneously. A typical three-camera outside broadcast rig could cost in the order of £4,000 - £6,000 for the day and encoding and streaming via a reliable server network could cost at least another £3000 to set up for an audience of 20,000. On the other hand, a single camera webcast to an audience of under 3000 could cost under £1000 - so there are opportunities here.

The alternative is to capitalise on the rapid production capability of new-style production methods and to give your viewers edited highlights. For a conference you could present each speaker as a separate link and also include interviews and audience reactions.

As this whole production could be on the web within 24 hours, the advantage is huge - it is still fresh, but now viewers retain control and can watch at a time to suit them. They can click to view the speakers in the order they prefer, as often as they like, and they also get to see and hear the broader context of the event with more reactions and interviews related to the theme.

This kind of coverage can be achieved with a smaller crew, and considerable cost savings.


8. Get the right hosting.
In order to deliver optimum quality, many people specify multi-bit rate encoding and Windows Media Server. This combination monitors each viewer's connection speed and delivers the optimum quality stream that they are capable of receiving. Other hosting methods are not as reliable and are invariably of lower quality. Video is best hosted on dedicated twin-processor servers that do not host any websites.

If you are planning a long-term streaming strategy, it is worth considering commissioning a dedicated server, either in-house or through third-party management. As an example, a machine with the capacity to deliver streaming video to around 5000 simultaneous users, the storage for over 1000 hours of content, and the bandwidth for around 320,000 minutes of video viewing monthly would cost only around £700 per month plus management charges. And it could easily be upgraded by clustering with additional servers.

Smaller businesses can form co-operative arrangements to share these resources on an agreed and monitored basis, effectively giving them unlimited broadcasting capacity at minimal cost.

9. Advertise.
The marketing synergy of streaming is another key factor in its appeal. Each new production gives a reason for news releases that will generate more visits to the website. Many existing marketing and PR events - from guest speakers to factory tours - are perfect streaming material. Planning is required so that these all feedback into further streaming content for the website, in turn generating more news releases and more site visits.

I predict that some company advertising will one day resemble TV listings - giving potential visitors more reasons to 'tune in' by listing the video content, events and upcoming schedules.

10. Exploit the strengths of the medium.
Traditional corporate video often took months to conceive and as much again to produce. Streaming video is different. You can pick up the telephone this morning and watch yourself speaking to the nation the same evening.

And as you now have editorial control, you can bypass any hidden agenda that may concern you in conventional media. You can direct the press and public alike to your own broadcasts, via the answer phone if necessary. This facility can be of crucial importance in product recalls and other crises.

Streaming media lends itself to a direct, honest and uncomplicated style of delivery. This makes it a very credible medium - something we could term 'Reality PC'. It excels at showing the evidence - the customer reaction, the speech from the horse's mouth, the scientist who actually developed the process, the report from the event itself. Exploit these areas and you will soon attract all the right sort of attention on your websites.

Streaming gives unprecedented opportunities to businesses of all sizes because it need not be an expensive undertaking. Because of the additional impact and effectiveness it gives to websites and because of its immense ability to communicate effectively, streaming is set to become one of the web's major assets.

©2002 Laurence Middleton Jones

Find out more about webcasting and streaming media by following these links:

- Microsoft's Windowsmedia resource centre.
- a wide range of background material.

Streamingmedia World
- lots of information and advice.

Streamingmedia Net
- a great centre for the promotion of the medium.