Cover Story: Business TV: A Strategic Piece In The Corporate Puzzle
By Nick Mitsis
Business Television (BTV) applications for medium- to large-sized companies have begun diversifying, enhancing and developing into strategic tools within corporations. Computer monitors are now second nature for watching cached material from corporate headquarters, where as once a television set was the only venue for BTV applications providing live broadcasts.
Making sure communication channels within organizations play a strategic role in harvesting new revenue streams is driving many business plans in today’s corporate environments. That is where satellite technology offering this application wins. Turbulent economic spending from the buyer and increased competition for profit growth from the seller are requiring enhanced BTV offerings.
Enterprise executives recognize the benefits of BTV as a way to increase their training processes and corporate communications. Satellite executives, providing such services, are enhancing these essential tools needed by the clients. Whether it is a message from headquarters to the branch offices, or training materials from the instructor to the sales force, an effort to make satellite-enabled BTV networks reliable in reaching everyone simultaneously is adding revenues to satellite executives’ balance sheets. Today, focus continues to center on inclusion of Internet Protocol (IP)-based applications that complement the established television set model.
According to a study produced by Northern Sky Research, the total number of global enterprise Internet Protocol BTV sites will grow from more than 81,000 in 2003 to more than 432,000 by the end of 2006. This market growth translates into cold cash estimated to grow from roughly $95 million in 2003 to more than $605 million in 2006.
"Even though the majority of the BTV networks being deployed today are still primarily going to televisions, there is a fair amount of impetus in delivering content to the desktop," says Joe Amor, vice president and general manager of Microspace Communications Corp. "It is a lot easier to handle and manage content in a file structure than it is distributing VHS tapes."
Microspace offers its Velocity platform, which enables a corporation to broadcast video, data or audio to its remote sites as often as needed. Such a service gives corporations the flexibility to provide live or pre-recorded content to their branch offices without having to install a leased-line every time a new office opens within their organization.
"John Deere was very clear with us that they wanted to do BTV video broadcasting to television after exploring other options of Web-based solutions," Amor says. Initially, John Deere is using the network to connect its Worldwide Commercial and Consumer Equipment division’s remote locations in North America, including Raleigh and Charlotte in NC, Greeneville, TN, Horicon, WI, two sites in Augusta, GA, and the corporate headquarters in Moline, IL. In the future, the division plans to add its three overseas locations in Germany and the Netherlands.
Overcoming IP Hurdles
And companies such as John Deere, who prefer a classic BTV model over an IP-based one, still exist because of some significant concerns regarding the bits and bytes behind the technology. Even though Microspace’s Velocity product does manage bandwidth efficiently, bandwidth overloading remains a concern by those in charge. "One of the major hurdles still to be resolved is the amount of the bandwidth required to deliver video content to the desktop," says Jonathan Feldman, senior vice president, enterprise services, business development for Globecast. "IT/network managers are concerned that distributing larger MPEG-2 streams across their Local Area Networks (LAN), as opposed to lower bit rate encoding like Windows Media Player, will increase the network latency, or worse, cause it to crash."
Globecast implements and manages enterprises via private satellite networks for its corporate customers. The company offers its clients the ability to use IP broadband applications such as video streaming and/or FTP services to distribute content. Additionally, Globecast provides its internationally-based ISP customers with Internet backbone access via satellite so they can, in turn, service their end users.
To overcome the LAN obstacle, there must be a convergence of what is acceptable quality to the viewer with the acceptable amount of usable LAN bandwidth with appropriate encoding technology. The current options available are half-resolution MPEG-2 streams at lower bit rates, Windows Media 9 or similar applications, or MPEG-4, once standardized.
Alternatively, Skystream Networks offers a transrating capability that allows a stream encoded at one rate to be reduced in bit rate. "While this may meet the bandwidth requirements of the LAN administrator, the quality may not be acceptable to the viewer," comments Feldman.
In an effort to overcome such IP hurdles, Globecast and others are developing solutions to eliminate bandwidth overload issues. "We can take content and re-encode it at a lower bit rate to maximize the use of available bandwidth," adds Feldman. Solving the challenge of delivering quality video to the desktop will allow companies using satellite-enabled BTV platforms to then deliver more content to more remote locations, ultimately saving more money.
"Increasingly, we are seeing enterprise television networks use broadcast-grade digital video encoding systems, such as Harmonic’s Divicom MV 100 which supports MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC and Windows Media 9, to reduce the cost associated with video transmission and storage," says David Price, vice president of business development at Harmonic Inc.’s Convergent Systems division. "Digital video, particularly when utilizing MPEG-4 AVC or Windows Media 9, yields exceptional picture quality at ultra-low bit rates, ideal for distributing programming over leased satellite."
Globecast has a close relationship with Skystream Networks and incorporates some of Skystream’s products, such as the Mediaplex-20 Video Services router, with the transrating capability and Source Media router to provide a more economical, efficient way to deliver new and existing video and data services to its business customers.
Skystream’s product of maximizing bandwidth use has been adopted by many enterprises, one being Safeway supermarkets. The grocer recently deployed a new satellite-based video networking solution that has strategically enhanced the company’s internal communications into a competitive corporate utility. Safeway uses Skystream’s hardware and software to create a next-generation enterprise video network. The solution enabled the broadcast delivery of high-quality video and IP data simultaneously to Safeway locations across the United States, allowing local on-demand playback depending upon the needs of each location using Safeway’s existing network. With Skystream’s solution, Safeway provides distance learning, management training, updates on policies and guidelines to employees on a wide scale via the satellite network, while also allowing content to be customized to each store’s needs.
"Business TV is the perfect application for next-generation encoding. Compared to traditional consumer television services, BTV’s narrower installed base justifies the switch to new set top boxes utilizing 8PSK modulation encoding," says Price. "The need to promulgate content to both television sets and desktop PCs within an organization gives clients using the Windows solution certain advantages in this environment."
What Lies Ahead
Beyond the migration of BTV services to the desktop, there is an expansion of who within a company uses BTV services and how this application is diversified. "Throughout the last year, I have had many conversations with customers telling me that BTV is no longer only for the use of the CEO sending out executive announcements," says Amor. "It really is a communication tool for the entire corporation. When you have a BTV network, regardless of where it is viewed, the networks that we have seen be very successful have been the ones that use this tool to promote the culture and the management strategies. Such an application excels when all executives throughout the company use it to send out information."
And future growth for BTV products and services remains strong. Aside from U.S. enterprise sectors, strong growth opportunities exist in Europe and Asia. "The enterprise space definitely has room for growth," says Feldman. "I believe that better usage of existing LAN bandwidth in the corporate environment is the last hurdle BTV providers have to overcome to get content to the desktop."
So as these challenges are overcome with advancements in the satellite services equipment sector, for future BTV growth may yield networks providing services to television sets, computer desktops, and delivering real-time and on-demand content in regions all over the world.
Nick Mitsis is the editor of Via Satellite magazine