By Adam Bennett
Streaming media seems like becoming a must for broadcasters. Sarah Platt of GroovyGecko guides you around some of the potential pitfalls of webcasting.
Webcasting|~||~||~|If you've been keeping your eye on the new media market, you've probably been inundated by a deluge of buzzwords along the lines of 'webcasting', 'streaming', 'bandwidth' and 'broadband'. The real story is that this is not just hype - this is the future.Streaming media is the process whereby audio and video content is played the minute you request it, eradicating the need for a lengthy download.Broadcasters all over the world are beginning to embrace streaming media and realise the potential of distributing their existing content over the Internet.The bandwidth barrier is slowly lifting and with the demand for broadband access on the increase, the entire landscape of broadcasting is changing to accommodate the integration of streaming applications. It's only a matter of time before our PCs become our TVs.The Arab news and entertainment industry stands to benefit from this new technology by gaining a much greater presence in the global market; the Middle East is already preparing for convergence, with cable and satellite companies now moving into the digital arena.The Internet need not be seen as a threat to traditional broadcasting models, but as a huge opportunity for both independent production companies and national broadcasters to gain global audiences and reach niche markets otherwise unavailable to them.Currently, the most used application of streaming media in Europe is video on demand, which has the advantage of being less expensive than live webcasting, and also makes more content available. Entertainment will no doubt dominate the market, but streaming is also the fastest method of delivering news content.In terms of global distribution, streaming news broadcasts will reach many more people in the next five years than are currently served by television or radio.The BBC has already been streaming for some time, (BBC News Online features 96 hours of audio and video a day, including 40 to 50 video reports).So, whether you are producing news footage, entertainment, covering sports events or showing film trailers and advertisements, the message is clear - if you produce content it's time you were streaming.||**||End to end streaming|~||~||~|Companies such as UK based Groovy Gecko enable traditional media companies to put their audio and video content onto the Internet via 'end-to-end' streaming solutions.By employing a streaming service provider, companies can gain access to high-speed hosting networks and a full range of services such as encoding, e-commerce integration and syndication. Craig Moehl, Business Development Director of Groovy Gecko says: "The benefits of using a streaming specialist - who can encode and host your content and stream it to your chosen audience - is that your company has no need to go through the difficult process of setting up its own servers and you don't need to invest in infrastructure or in-house skills. Using a hosting provider also ensures high-quality delivery to the end-user."For businesses considering adding streamed audio or video to their websites, there are many factors to be considered, for example, how will it impact on your network bandwidth or your web server? How do you encode your content for the optimal clarity? How can you guarantee performance and scalability?It's a monumental task, but there's a way around all the problems. By hosting video and audio streams on a network such as the Groovy Gecko Streaming Network, broadcasters can deliver the optimal quality content, from specially configured servers, over high bandwidth networks, directly to the audience and the beauty is that this has no negative effects on website performance.Here's how it all works.A designer can add links to a website which reference a media hosting network. When a viewer clicks on one of the links the media network streams the clip directly to the viewer's PC as though it was coming from the original website. Because the media files are hosted on a separate network, the streaming has no impact on any existing web servers.When a user logs into Groovy Gecko's hosted streaming network for instance, he or she is automatically fed content from the nearest available server on the Internet, which is then delivered at the best quality possible for that connection.Eddie Robins, Groovy Gecko's technical director, explains that content is fed over the most efficient part of the Internet infrastructure: "By bringing the content as close as possible to the viewer we maximize their experience - and that is what it is all about."The future of this industry is massive. It is becoming clear that streaming is the next major driver for Internet growth. The media-streaming market is projected to grow from under $1 billion in 2000 to nearly $10 billion by 2005 and according to the latest research from Vision Consult, 42 million people globally listen to or watch streaming media per month.You don't have to be a genius to recognise that the early adopters of this new technology will benefit enormously as enthusiasm and interest grows amongst consumers and businesses alike.Using the web as a viable broadcasting medium need not be a pain in the proverbial posterior, as there are plenty of companies who provide cost-effective solutions and excellent consultancy services for those who want to create revenue via the vast applications of streaming technology.||**||