As we get ready for 2018—a year in which Streaming Media will celebrate its 20th anniversary—it is fitting that we reflect
on just how successful we’ve been at killing off
the streaming media industry.
I, for one, am very glad to celebrate this victory, even though I hear some of you muttering
as you shake your heads in disbelief.
“Siglin’s lost it,” you’re probably saying. But
it’s true. The streaming industry is dead, thanks
to its success.
In 2003, 5 years into my involvement with
streaming media, I penned an article called
“Simply Business” which suggested a number of
non-entertainment-focused streaming use cases. All of those use cases, once considered fringe
uses for streaming, are now mainstream—so
much so that the original article feels quaint.
I will revisit this same topic in 2018, in a way
detailed at the end of this column.
Our success has never been based on having an industry that acts as the sole gatekeeper to streaming technologies—from hardware,
including mobile phones and set-top boxes, to
software for encoding and transmitting content—but rather on “success by a thousand
cuts,” the assimilation of streaming into many
market verticals, even if those verticals have
widely divergent use cases.
I first learned this expand-and-conquer approach in 1993 as part of two pre-streaming-era
technologies: video walls and videoconferencing.
The typical videoconferencing unit in those
days was actually a facility—a custom-built
room with full-time videoconferencing coordinators who were inputting strings of code
into an MPEG-2-based codec. The coordinators then sat alongside users, who were paying
incredible rates just to see a grainy and blocky
version of another person in a distant city, just
in case the videoconferencing unit disconnected itself from the multi-ISDN-line call.
In order to be successful, videoconferencing
needed to overcome several barriers: very expensive rooms with finely tuned lighting, expensive encoder/decoder units the size of a small
dishwasher, and a person dedicated to programming the videoconferencing dialer.
The first inkling I had that videoconferencing
could be more than a talking-head technology
came as part of a visit to the Saturn automotive
plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. While the tour of the
automated assembly lines was impressive, what
really caught my eye was the isolated room on
the assembly line floor that housed a constantly
connected videoconferencing unit.
Directly linked to a team of engineers near Detroit, this videoconferencing room was purpose-built for show-and-tell demonstrations, allowing
assembly line employees to visually show the remote team any problem with a part they’d just
pulled from the assembly line.
Some cameras were mounted in the ceiling
and others were mounted at table-height. These
multiple angles, which could be selected on a
touch-screen controller, allowed the remote engineering team to see various angles of a part,
with the end goal being to understand and modify the finer details of a part that may not fit
properly into a Saturn or may be slowing down
a very expensive assembly line.
Costs on this single-purpose videoconferencing link between Tennessee and Michigan
were much lower than flying a single engineer
in to solve a problem that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost manufacturing and sales.
Today, we wouldn’t think twice about using
our phones to do a similar IP-based videoconferencing call, or even to do a narrowcast stream to
a few dozen viewers as part of an on-the-shop-floor training exercise. And that seamless integration into everyday life, from the office to the
shop floor to the living room to the playground,
is where the streaming industry has effectively
met its apex and its demise.
I will be penning four articles in 2018 based
on opportunities in emergent market verticals.
This 2018 update to my 2003 article will examine
use cases in agriculture, manufacturing, mining,
and music, and may also open up other early-stage challenges in nascent verticals.
Join me in this year-long celebration of the
demise of our industry as we prepare for the
next 10 years of streaming success.
Tim Siglin is a streaming industry veteran and longtime
contributing editor to Streaming Media magazine.
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