News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus Canter on Streaming Media
From Marc Canter, marc@canter.com:

Microsoft buying VXtreme today finally gets the streaming media business going. Up until now - there has been no clear leader in the streaming video world, so developers didn't know which standard to support. We have been faced with having to choose between 3 or 5 different standards, by creating redundant copies of our files - some designed just for 14.4 or 28.8 modems or for ISDN bandwidth.

The same problem has been with streaming audio. Sure Progressive Networks was the leader with their RealAudio format - but did ANYBODY really think that that sort of quality was going to make it? Not me! So the world has been searching for better streaming audio standard (whether it be Macromedia's Shockwave audio or Liquid Audio's AC-3 implementation) - but so far no one standard has been able to usurp RealAudio.

This sort of quagmire has held up any widespread adoption of streaming media by customers as well, by forcing them to download many different plug-ins, and having to sort through all the marketing dogma spouted by these competing standards. But that has all changed today!

By buying VXtreme and by licensing Progressive Networks technology (earlier last month) Microsoft has taken full control over what will obviously be one of the biggest issues facing the web in the future - how to make things look and sound like TV. Their NetShow server (and its accompanying NetShow Pro sister product) will firmly place Microsoft into the leadership role of media servers (a role much sought after by Larry Ellison BTW) and allow them to integrate streaming media into IE 4.0 and later versions of their browsers and operating systems.

The potential is staggering. Streaming Media built into the desktop? WebTV and streaming media - all available for $300? Open APIs to allow developers to plug in their own codecs? Totally cool!

The only issue now is "How does anyone make money?"

I know how I'm gonna make money - by creating amazing things WITH NetShow!

And we know how Softbank (and the other investors) made money with VXtreme - they sold out to Microsoft. But what about VDONet, Real Audio, Xing, Vivo and the other streaming developers? Why would I want to buy anything from them - when I can get it for free from Microsoft?

Theoretically consumers would use the NetShow server and ASF file formats and choose which codec to use. That codec would come along with the file and everybody's happy. But I still don't understand how anybody makes money. Content folks get to provide lots of rich multimedia data - but how can a development company make money from their codec? By selling the compressor?

It's all about compatibility and file formats. Microsoft has in one full swoop usurped the leading streaming audio vendor - Progressive Networks - while at the same time basically forced all the other streaming video vendors to adapt to the NetShow ASF format. Theoretically they all could continue to ask customers to download their individual plug-ins, but that's not gonna happen.

All media files will be in the ASF format in the future and that's that. This has ramifications on Intel BTW - who's been trying to get various versions of Indeo, ProShare, etc. adopted as well - but that game is over with too. Microsoft has NetMeeting - and that will also be built into IE 4.0 and subsequent versions of the OS.

So is there ANY room left for technology companies to play in?

MacroMedia has bascially been left alone with the tools buisness, but it's not that there aren't tons of products out there produced by little companies such as NetObjects, RandomNoise, Quarterdeck or Marimba.

The game is over - Microsoft had won - and whatever revenue streams that are left out there - will be divided up amongst all the remaining players - who have not been licensed their stuff to or been pruchased by Microsoft.

The wonderful thing about standards - is that there's so many of them. That's been the problem up until now with the burgeoning - 'media over the net' - business. But now it's all over - and we finally have one standard. It's called ASF and it plays out of the NetShow server.


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