web has allusions to broadcasting (1997)

It is a few years since they said that the Internet was a medium alive with sound, pictures and movies ready to take over from broadcast. It may have encouraged a few to shuffle their share holdings but just a little surfing showed it to be oh so much hype. Not even Microsoft was taking the Internet seriously at the time.

Today, things have moved on. A typical connection to the ‘Net delivers data at four times the speed of yesterday. The result is that sound can be delivered, albeit at low quality, on the Internet. And that combined with audio streaming technology pipes music through the system as fast as you can listen. It compares well with the old days when an entire sound file had to get into the computer before anyone could hear its first scratchy note.

The payoff is that Internet radio stations, should anyone care to listen for the price of a call, are looming and it is not just an academic point: the banned Belgrade radio station B92 can be heard from anywhere in the world over the ‘Net at www.real-audio.com. And for something close to radio on demand, an archive of recent American basketball commentaries can be heard at SportsZone (www.espnet.SportsZone.com) a service based on subscriptions.

There is more and mostly from the US: Dallas’ AudioNet broadcasts, or rebroadcasts the programmes of hundreds of radio stations; WQXR, a popular classical radio station delivers, at least part of WQXR’s live signal from Classical Insites (www.classicalinsites.com)

This, what they call ‘cybercasting’, is only a fraction of what we call multimedia. Till recently, video on the ‘Net has been written off as a curiosity but again streaming video technologies offer a taste of what is possible with a faster connection. Vivo Software boasts 750 sites using its ‘VivoActive’ technology including CNN, C/NET, MSNBC, Court TV, and the BBC.

The Worldwide Broadcasting Network (http://www.wbnet.com) offers interactive news, training and communications programming using video and audio. More can be expected from BBC Worldwide which launches its Internet service with ICL Fujitsu this spring. The content will be built around BBC programmes and magazines, and include news, sport, information and entertainment.

Taking it seriously, and adding a hint of Internet cleverness, a business opportunity for TV stations arises as Warner Bros Online and Telepictures Distribution are offering CityWeb. With this a local TV station can pick and mix from Warner Bros entertainment pages, CNN news and People Online to build up their own Internet site. As far as the ‘net user is concerned, the local station has a significant and own branded presence on the Internet.

Lest the hype begin again, video is slow on a modem connection. For those with better connections there is space to be impressed, but for speed freaks this is no drug experience. The place for some sort of experience at the moment may be the Microsoft Network, MSN (www.msn.com) which really has spiced up the Internet using animated graphics. Microsoft’s third launch of MSN uses technologies that not only stream audio, but also sends text and graphics that almost dances off the screen. Rather than consume bandwidth with video files, the graphics trick is done by streaming small programs over a modem link and letting the computer do the work. At the users end, browsers such as Internet Explorer interpret the programs and do the special effects. The names to look for behind this flashy scenery are VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language) Shockwave Flash, Visual Basic and Active X. All are essentially ways of manipulating a screen image or embedding it within an Internet page. They parallel with Java – the much vaunted programming language – which amongst other things, helps to economise on bandwidth. But here Microsoft has done the obvious: they are doing now what can be done well. Just bear in mind that, although Web authoring has become very easy to do, streaming animation still requires considerable programming skills.

MSN has not only smartened itself up but, short of offering TV, it has taken on the TV metaphor wholesale. Its ‘Onstage’ page offers five channels to explore: a channel for news, another for sports, and another on lifestyle. Channels Four and Five in this strong allusion to Internet TV cover showbiz, arts and history. For those with shares to shift around, it deserves to be seen. Just remember that unlike shares, Internet speeds can only go up.

People are saying that 1997 will be the year the hype will all come true. Some can point to the ’96 ‘net advertising spend where Q1 hit $30 million, Q2 $60 million, and Q3 reached $75 million. Those about to jump ship should remember that it was all going to come true in 1995 too.

Belgrade B92 radio www.real-audio.com).

SportsZone (www.espnet.SportsZone.com)

Classical Insites (www.classicalinsites.com)

Worldwide Broadcasting Network (http://www.wbnet.com)

MSN (www.msn.com)

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