A S t r e a m i n g M e d i a P r i m e r :
W H A T I S S T R E A M I N G M E D I A ?
congestion, etc.) are equivalent. But however long the download takes, when all is said and done, the
quality of the playback experience will be the same, assuming all other relevant factors (e.g., processing
capability, video support, quality of monitor and speakers, popcorn, etc.) are equal.
For streaming media to play back smoothly, a continuous, steady stream of data must be delivered
a stream that won't choke the pipes. In other words, you need to produce a fi le that streams at a
low enough bit rate (data transfer rate) for the connection to handle. Reducing the bit rate of a media
fi le enough to fl ow smoothly through a narrowband connection means sending much less data than a
broadband connection is able to handle much less data than we are used to seeing when we watch
broadcast television; much, much less than when we play a DVD. There are several ways in which the
bit rate can be reduced:
the physical dimensions (area) of the video frame can be made smaller
the number of frames per second (fps) of the video can be lowered, and/or
the amount of information in each frame can be reduced through compression.
When any or all of these strategies are employed, the quality of the playback experience suffers.
If a media fi le is encoded to optimize playback for the least common denominator a typical
narrowband connection at 28.8 Kbps, for example the quality will be relatively low. A user with a
higher bandwidth connection, such as cable modem, DSL, or a corporate T 1 line (which, with current
technology might support near broadcast quality) can play any streaming media clip that has been
encoded for transmission at their connection speed or lower but they will suffer poor quality un
necessarily. However, a user with a low bandwidth connection, who attempts to play a stream that has
been encoded for higher bandwidths, will experience choppy playback and delays. The best solution
the emerging streaming media industry has come up with to date, is to publish streaming media content
as multiple streams, encoded for an assortment of bandwidths, in order to accommodate a wide variety
of end users. This is called multi bit rate encoding, or MBR.
WHO'S STREAMING IN THE REAL WORLD?
There's a whole lot of streaming going on
According to Nielson/NetRatings, streaming media consumption skyrocketed to an all time high in
November 2000, with 35 million Web users at home accessing streaming content, a 65% increase
from 21 million in November 1999. Nielson/NetRatings indicates that fi gure accounts for
36% of all Internet users, as compared to 28% during the same period in the prior year. Nielson/
NetRatings also reports that people with high speed Web connections 11.2 million home users in
November 2000 are more likely to consume streaming media content. Active users with a broad
band connection in the home (over 56 Kbps) were 50% more likely to access streaming media
than their dial up counterparts (56 Kbps and below).
Trends show streaming usage by Web users at home is skyrocketing
Audience November November Percent
Demographic 1999 2000 Increase
Females 9 million 16 million 77%
Males 12 million 19 million 56%
Kids/Teens 4 million 7 million 65%
Seniors 700,000 1.4 million 95%
And lots more streaming to come
A Q42000 report by U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffrey indicates that the implementation of streaming media
to meet consumer demand will drive the next wave of Internet growth. The report predicts that total
spending on Web streaming media will grow from $9.7 million in 1999 to $21.6 million by 2004.
11 Streaming Media Usage Spikes 65 Percent, InternetNews.com, December 2000, http://www.internetnews.com/streaming news/article/0,,8161_532781,00.html