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Flash Video Service Open For Enterprise

Although the Internet has become a fairly interactive medium, video on the Web is rarely more than television content re-purposed in a static window.

Enter Macromedia . The San Francisco-based Web graphics software maker Wednesday launched its new Flash Video Streaming Service primarily for the North American markets as a way to get companies to liven up their sites.

Powered by Irvine, Calif.-based VitalStream , the service is a subscription-based content distribution network (CDN) that delivers video-enabled Flash content. The platform includes load-balancing, redundancy, as well as a suite of tracking and reporting tools. VitalStream's pre-packaged options start at an annual fee of $299 for 60Gb worth of transfer per month. The price is then structured on a case-by-case basis depending on the client's needs.

Macromedia said it is marketing the service to small-to-medium businesses (SMB) as well as larger clients such as the Sundance Online Film Festival.

Macromedia director of product management Chris Hock said, "We're targeting SMBs or companies that don't have much traffic that need video but don't want to set up server hardware. Then our larger customers that do have the resources tell us they prefer to deliver video through a CDN."

VitalStream is offering a 15-day trial account, but Hock said Macromedia does not consider this as a trial run or experiment.

"We will keep our options open to new content delivery networks and possibly extend the service," Hock told internetnews.com. "We originally picked VitalStream because they know the traditional streaming technologies and they are familiar with Flash and the Flash delivery system."

The company is also taking the same approach to their codec partners. Macromedia is working with Sorenson and its Squeeze platform and plans on extending its partnerships to some of the larger codec companies. However, Hock was not sure about DivX.

The service requires Flash Video Exporter for Flash MX Professional 2004 and lets a subscriber upload video files through a browser or FTP . Hock said there are two ways subscribers can approach how their video looks.

"You can either pick a Flash player skin where you get some interactivity and get a normal Web page," he said. "The second way is for the developer to create a piece of code that you put into your Flash authoring environment that allows you to create your own player. Then when you publish your Flash movie [as a .swf ], that code will get the clip from the right server. And by the right server, I mean they get served the video from the closest node with least amount of load."

The biggest stumbling block may be the lack of desktops that have high-speed connections. Industry statistics indicate that two out of three PCs connected to the Internet are still using dial-up as their primary way of getting online. Macromedia seems unfazed by the challenge, citing their claims that more than 90 percent of desktops worldwide already have the video-capable Flash Player (version 6 or 7) installed and companies have been getting better about addressing the bandwidth needs of their users.

"The content provider can write in a program in to detect what the browser speed is necessary and we provide those tools for the developer," Hock said. "We found that people want to do it differently. Some allow the video to run transparently. Others want to let end users pick their bandwidth rates."

Overall, Macromedia professes Flash video content as the better end-user experience because it can allow for interaction with the content, the ability to synchronize the video to other site elements, play back within the browser -- not through a third-party player. Certainly not by delivering additional branding or advertising.

"Flash is quickly becoming the video format of choice online because of the power it gives companies to provide a great seamless experience across a wide number of platforms," Hock said.

Macromedia said its recent Flash Video customer list includes sites done by Ben & Jerry's, Comcast, Ford, and beverage maker Red Bull. Macromedia has also launched a Flash Video Gallery, which showcases some 25 different examples.