Despite the supposed plethora of media players, be it YouTube or the iPlayer, it all seems to come back to Flash. Besides, how many players do you need to download in order to view the majority of your chosen content? Flash has now gained a significant competitor as Microsoft has morphed Windows Media into Microsoft Silverlight. For both companies online video is only the start and a technology that can be used to encourage broadcasters to take on increasing amounts of their product set.
“The majority of Flash video historically speaking has been for advertisements, and Flash is wonderfully suited for that because of the low bandwidth and the massive ubiquity of the player,” says Steve Allison, Technical Evangelist, Adobe.
There are of course different versions of Flash, but Flash Player 9 is estimated to have a penetration of some 98%, though with Flash Player 6 bundled by Microsoft Allison says virtually every PC has some form of Flash installed.
“There’s a vast amount of different kinds of uses for video making. This is a really exciting time for broadcasters as to how they can use their content across all the different systems,” says Allison. “We can now have a proper business application that one that can also focus around editing video and editing audio.” The result is projects such as MTV’s Remixer [http://remix.mtv.com] that uses Adobe Premiere to allow the user to splice together clips from their favourite artists to make a personalised video. “MTV’s got millions of clips of videos and soundtracks from their stars. You literally edit your own video to the soundtrack for your favourite artist; you can create your own mix, put text on the screen or send it to a friend. The whole point is engaging people in the site, they’re reusing stuff they’ve already got while bringing people to the site and generating loyalty.”
Allison says the application uses audio and video assets to good effect. For the consumer the only requirement is the Flash player with no other tools required.
Video was first introduced into Flash in 2002 through something called the Sorenson Spark Codec, one of the first video applications for the web, and enabling devices such as Webcams. However, the mass adoption did not follow until the arrival of Flash Video 9 in 2006. Each time a new Flash player is issued some 80% penetration is achieved within nine months.
The most recently release of the technology was in December 2007, and support for HD video was introduced through the addition of an H264 codec. According to Allison, this has already achieved a penetration of 61.9%.
“The Flash player is not dependent on the browser, the operating system or anything else, so it doesn’t really matter if they’ve got Windows 98 and the corresponding version of Internet Explorer, it works in the same way,” says Allison. Since Flash Player 8 an automatic updater has been introduced, alerting users to the availability of a new version.
The MTV site, and similar implementation on the BBC that allows Doctor Who fans to make their own trailer of the popular sci-fi show, all have distinct branding. Adobe is there, but it is obviously the domain of the Time Lord. For Adobe it is the ability to build worktools all the way from the editing process through to publication without the need to change the codec.
Adobe is already moving into the video business through the Adobe Media Player, part of the Air suite of applications, and is available on both Mac and PC platforms. To date it has only been officially released in the US with a European launch slated for the summer. The free download feels like iTunes without the iPod.
“This is about complimenting about what you do on your website with what you do when not connected to the internet,” says Allison. “The general public will not install a player from all the different producers and publishers and broadcasters, so they want something they can control, and what goes in here.” The application collects information about consumption while allowing broadcasters to place their own branding on the site. The personalisation extends to using information requested by viewers to deliver relevant adverts, as well as content.
Microsoft’s Communication Sector has also turned its attention to the delivery of video content with or without DRM, taking on Adobe’s Flash, as part of a much wider proposition that comes close to integrating the production workflow with Microsoft Office.
Gabriele Di Piazza, MD, Media & Entertainment Communication Sector, Microsoft offers a familiar line that the company is not selling things to the communications sector, but partnering with them. “The focus is on the media and entertainment space where we are dealing with broadcast, advertising, cable and satellite, music and publishers,” says Di Piazza. He highlights the changes in consumption of content through the rise of peer-to-peer and user-generated content.
In addition to the development of Silverlight, which rather than Flash has become the online content distribution technology for NBC, ITV and SBS in The Netherlands, Microsoft has also been making acquisitions. This has taken Microsoft into the digital advertising space through the $6 billion (€3.8 billion) acquisition of aQuantive. ITV actually added the Silverlight technology at the end of April, but it has yet to be officially recognised by either the commercial broadcaster or ITV itself.
Silverlight has also been powering Discovery Channel’s online content in the US, and the Home Shopping Network, and announced at NAB that the technology would be behind Abertis’ online aggregation of the Spanish DTT line-up.
Allison says the Media Player enables broadcasters to place their content in dedicated branded areas. “We think for most producers it’s not realistic for broadcasters to have their own players.” By giving away the Media Player, Adobe is looking to sell broadcasters the backend tools to create the content. It is also possible to add DRM capabilities through Adobe’s own rights management server.
“If you build your own you get exactly what you want, but you’ve got to persuade people to adopt it. If you use ours, you get almost everything that you want, but a larger reach of people.”