Webcasting: The Next Broadcast Networks?

By Beacham, Frank | American Cinematographer, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Webcasting: The Next Broadcast Networks?


Beacham, Frank, American Cinematographer


Seemingly out of nowhere, webcasting - the broadcast of real-time digital audio and video over the Internet - has exploded through Cyberspace. In the past year alone, the number of audio webcasters jumped from 72 to 630, an increase of 775 percent. Video webcasting has taken off only in the past few months, even though the technical quality for most Internet users with dial-up connections remains relatively primitive. Image quality is expected to improve dramatically within a short span of time.

The new technology is incredibly appealing. Webcasting is the cheapest, most powerful medium ever available to those who want their programs to reach a large audience without having to deal with the powers that be. With webcasting, there's no FCC, no censorship (yet) and no corporate gatekeepers creating boundaries around programming. For now, it's truly a personal broadcasting medium without limits.

Much of the recent heat - and promise - of webcasting is being generated by Microsoft. The computer giant recently made several high-profile deals that are eventually expected to create a universal, multimedia broadcast standard for the Internet. "We believe that the Internet will become the next broadcast network," says Jim Durkin, product manager of Microsoft's NetShow, the computer maker's Internet audio/video streaming technology.

The increased interest in webcasting began over the summer, when Microsoft announced a licensing agreement and minority investment in Progressive Networks, the inventors of the RealAudio and RealVideo streaming media technologies. Next came word that Microsoft would purchase VXtreme, another key multimedia player on the Net. In the wake of these developments, a flurry of other dominos began to fall.

The bottom line is that the Internet is soon expected to become as easy to use as a radio or TV set. Ultimately, a user will simply flip the computer "dial" to the program of choice. The days of fumbling with various proprietary players and plug-ins is coming to an end.

Experts say tomorrow's Internet (meaning a mere few years down the road) will have little resemblance to the slow, cranky network of today. With the dramatically increased bandwidth that is on the horizon, users will be able to multicast audio and video programs to millions of viewers simultaneously around the globe.

"Things are changing very, very fast," says Patrick Seaman, chief technology officer of AudioNet, a major webcaster that now re-transmits the feeds of over 250 radio and television stations. "We are negotiating [multicast] agreements now. By the end of the year, we'll reach at least 500,000 [Internet users] simultaneously via multicast. This ability to reach large audiences simultaneously will become a very important factor within six months to a year."

According to Seaman, another rapidly emerging technology for Internet broadcasting is wireless transmission. …

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