Are the Streams A-Changin’?

 

On Tuesday, Showtime Networks announced its new Macromedia Flash-powered screening room has increased clip viewership over 150 percent since its launch early this summer. One explanation for its success is its dynamic, high-quality, customizable display of particular video clips to audiences, depending on their point of entry. This personalizes the experience, exposing audiences to content they’ve already expressed a preference in seeing.

With increases in broadband speeds and decreases in consumer access costs, the potential for better video quality, targeting, interactivity, and measurement has never been greater. The problem is there are still many different ways to deliver the same video content. The incumbent formats offered by Real, Windows Media, and QuickTime are facing a strong challenge from Flash. Advertisers, publishers, and consumers have many options to choose from. But as audiences become more discerning and discriminate regarding their online video experience (in-page or in-stream) and as the number of streams (and costs to publishers) increases, is Flash becoming the best solution? Or can all formats just get along?

Here’s a number that may surprise you: AccuStream Research recently reported 40 percent of all streaming video ad billings in 2005 will be delivered in Flash. About 15 percent of total preroll video inventory and 75 percent of in-page inventory are currently powered by Flash. Whether the reasons are ease of use or implementation, lower streaming costs, or more flexibility, Flash has become a leader in online video in a very crowded market.

Many publishers offer consumers a format choice for video content. But as surrounding environments are increasingly developed using a Flash interface, implementing Flash video will become a much easier — and sometimes default — decision. Flash’s great penetration helps its cause as well. Flash-video-capable browsers reach over 96 percent of audiences online.

Other formats have their advantages and shouldn’t be written off. At our agency, we predominantly use Windows Media and Flash in our online advertising campaigns. Flash’s streaming capabilities have improved greatly in the last few years, and are improving further with the release of Flash 8. Yet Windows Media still provides an advantage in high-quality, full-screen streaming capabilities, while maintaining a significant amount of flexibility in advertising.

Control doesn’t always lie in the advertiser’s hands, however. When video quality is of the utmost importance (when isn’t it?), it should always be ensured, via technology, the best-quality video is served to the consumer. That requires multiple streaming formats be addressed, including QuickTime and Real.

Flash is the only video-encoding mechanism that inherently provides opportunities for integration in its own environment. Windows Media’s almost ubiquitous install base (and integration in the Windows OS), not to mention its parent company’s ad and content initiatives, makes it an excellent choice for reaching the greatest number of audiences with the highest-quality (and even highest-definition) streaming video content.

To complicate matters further, new platforms are emerging. With new third-party-developed Java and hybrid video formats being made available, developers are learning video isn’t just about providing content to consumers anymore. It’s about giving them the power to collaborate, interact, and engage in ways (and at speeds) they never have before — while keeping the advertiser’s goals in mind.

Because of current OEM/manufacturer deals, there’s no clear victor in the game of maximum penetration. But the game of maximum quality and utility for consumers and maximum flexibility and innovation for advertisers is yet to be won. It’s just a matter of who has the tools to win over both consumers and advertisers. It may not just be one format. Choose your tools wisely.

 

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