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Rich Media: Streaming Ahead

When rich media first started, it was used to perk up advertising banners on the Net. With rich media, static banners started to move and were made interactive. Soon, users could play simple games, view animated product offers, even conduct transactions through banners on a Web site. Attempts were made to offer a richer multimedia experience, but they mostly failed due to the limited bandwidth available to the average Net user and slow downloads of the media files.

So companies turned to technology called streaming media. With streaming audio or video, the user doesn't have to download the entire media file onto his or her computer—just the first several minutes of the file. The rest is "streamed" as needed. Though this sped up the experience in most cases, unless today's user has a cable modem or DSL connection the stream generally becomes congested and the experience is less than satisfactory.

Streaming audio and video are still in their infancy. Video pictures can't render complex images fast enough. Images are smeared, audio is out of sync from video, and there are gaps and stalls in the stream. But this isn't stopping consumer-oriented companies such as AOL from forging ahead. Their merger with content giant Time Warner signaled their intent to make multimedia play a large role on AOL. Companies such as New York–based Internet news channel iNEXTV and Los Angeles–based movie channel CinemaNow demonstrate full-blown streaming video with elements of interactivity.

Your e-business could and should make streaming media part of your marketing plans today. Don't wait until the technology has been "perfected." Keep these issues in mind:

  • Limit video clips to five minutes in length.

  • Make sure that there are not too many cuts, which can cause video smearing. Talking heads or product shots—no quick camera movements—currently work best at modem speeds averaging 56 Kbps. This is a good modem speed to shoot for, since many home users have a 56K modem.

  • Have your material digitized and then output to a QuickTime, MPEG, or Real Audio file—or you can work with an authoring program such as Real Producer G2.

Once your streaming video is processed, your Webmaster can easily install it on your Web site. If you experiment with and learn how to use streaming media, your e-business will be prepared for when bandwidth is not a concern for the majority of Net users, and shopping bots are ready to retrieve your offers.

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