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Business Television: The Migration To The Desktop Continues

By | August 10, 2001

      By Nick Mitsis

      The business television (BTV) arena continues to change. Technological developments throughout the last year, according to industry executives, have rerouted this niche market from traditional transmission to a television set into digital pixels streamed to the desktop. This paradigm shift, however, is presenting some obstacles, and industry executives are taking note as they streamline, upgrade and enhance satellite-based BTV offerings to enterprise users.

      We still see a sustained, strong demand for BTV services,” says Michael Parkes, head of new markets, Americas for BT Broadcast Services North America. “There certainly has been a general decline in what have been traditional BTV offerings, and what we see now is an increased demand with the convergence of the Internet and corporate communications.” Technological developments within the last year, industry leaders say, have ousted the generic templates and brought in personalized solutions that, at times, bypass the executive boardrooms altogether and terminate on a computer screen at a home office.

      “The streaming technologies have come along real nicely in the last 18 months,” adds Greg Hurt, director of sales and marketing for Microspace Communications Corp. Microspace, which provides uplinking and satellite time to enterprise clients, is increasing its streaming capabilities to the desktop. “One of the benefits of streaming or file delivery of content to a corporate server is that the content can be stored and then users can retrieve it when it is convenient for them to review the material as opposed to adhering to a company-wide scheduled broadcast.”

      In addition, a shift toward a more personal suite of products delivered for corporate communications is making headway month by month. Not only are executives seeking a stronger desktop product, they are increasing demand for a more tailored content suite, such as adding additional informational channels pertinent to the individual’s business needs beyond the static corporate information. “This is being driven by the demand for saving time and resources,” says Parkes. “The filtering of turnkey content is giving those who are requesting such service a competitive edge against their business rivals.”

      IP Delivery is Changing The Market Landscape

      Even as the passive television broadcast model continues to move by the wayside, new opportunities for increasing profits present themselves, and that is resting well with BTV service providers. “Web-based training is growing at roughly 50 percent a year,” says Ron Clifton, president and CEO of International Datacasting. “If the market only remained video-centric, it would stay saturated; but, it is not, and Web-based training is a growing application.”

      A transition is occurring. As companies continue to navigate the competitive business seas, physically expand beyond their corporate headquarters and increase their productivity, less time is afforded to them for company-wide training and dissemination of information. Most training, according to officials, is now moving from a synchronous learning model to an asynchronous one. In other words, workers receive company content whenever it is convenient for them as opposed to a structured time when everyone must gather in a boardroom, achieved only with a near-impossible coordination of schedules. “Flexibility becomes important because most businesses start small and grow large so pushing interactive content to the computer which can be retrieved at one’s own discretion is key,” Clifton adds.

      Technology Obstructs Btv Advancement

      The slow technology upgrades within the streaming community, however, have taken their toll on the BTV market lifeline. More than a year ago, companies who were bullish on using such platforms for corporate content delivery are today taking a more conservative approach to implementing the service. “We are beginning to resume talks with some companies from business discussions that started 18 months ago, and at that time these companies were fascinated with the promise of high-quality streaming over the Internet. They have since realized that while the Internet is good for many things, high-quality delivery of corporate information is not one of them,” says Hurt. “We can multicast, for example, a T1 channel over satellite for multicast; and, while the quality is not yet broadcast video quality, it is certainly high enough for corporate communications.”

      Greg Browning, vice president of network solutions for Convergent Media systems, understands this disconnect surrounding the technology available, and Convergent executives are working on a solution they believe will raise the transmission quality to the desktop. “Many people are still talking about on-demand in the desktop but they are really not coming through with any real applications. But streaming to the desktop, and its use of lower bandwidth than in traditional BTV delivery, will gain momentum.”

      This marketplace confusion as to which technology to go with for corporate communications delivery has caused several dilemmas for executives. “I think, however, the upgrades to MPEG technology coming to market today as opposed to where it was this time last year hold promise for the industry,” says Ned Kazor, senior marketing director for Hughes Network Systems. “I think what we will see over the next 12 to 18 months is definitely more adoption of the technology and the application itself.”

      “It’s The Economy, Stupid.” It Really Is

      One of the prime drivers for BTV services to maintain their attractiveness is their inherent capability for saving a company money. Even though BTV services will never replace face-to-face visits within a corporate structure, they complement it and, at times, prove the point that it can be cheaper to multicast information out rather than assemble employees for a formal meeting in one location.

      “We’ve especially seen this happen during the last six to nine months with the economic downturn and companies looking for additional ways to save money,” says David Puente, executive vice president and general manager of business media services for Loral Cyberstar. “Likewise, we are seeing a trend toward the virtual office and we are offering our customers more by taking their traditional BTV services and simulcasting their content to more locations for less money via IP to the desktop services.”

      Where Things Will Go From Here

      As technology advances, a stronger transition from television to computer will naturally occur. “Moving away from passive television to multimedia-based training is where the market is going and opening up,” Clifton says. “The answer for business television is to go to more computer-based; therefore, the satellite broadband growth is what we will see pulling along the BTV market.” Parkes concurs with Clifton, adding that a massive growth will occur in terms of streaming and content management throughout the next 10 years. “It may be that the number of networks does not increase, but the actual applications and services running off those networks do,” he says. “There is a huge demand for this type of service.”

      With these emerging trends, industry executives will have to take the lead and navigate BTV through the marketplace peaks and valleys. Upgraded technology, cost-saving packages and more automated services are just a few areas on which satellite players may need to focus as BTV transitions more into the streaming arena.

      “The BTV market, in terms of growth, may have already seen its better days; however, what we are witnessing is that the demand for this service is still there,” says Puente. “People want corporate communication, learning and interactivity and the ability to communicate more effectively now more than ever.”

      Nick Mitsis is Via Satellite’s Associate Editor.

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