Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 6 (June 2000)

The Webcasting Revolution

It’s not often that one gets to observe the birth of a technological revolution. But that’s exactly what attendees of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show may have witnessed in Las Vegas this past April. Indeed, nearly every exhibitor introduced initiatives that promised to radically change broadcasting as we know it—from a traditional, one-way delivery vehicle to a new, interactive Internet-based medium known as “Webcasting.”

Computer graphics vendors at NAB announced plans that, taken together, would bring a spectrum of content-creation tools to Webcasters. To name a few, RT-Set and Orad are developing virtual-set systems for Webcasting; Dream Team is targeting Webcasters with new real-time character-animation software; Famous Technologies, LipSinc, and Face2Face are releasing programs that give virtual Web characters realistic facial animation; Discreet is bringing its real-time 3D graphics capabilities to Web broadcasters, and Alias|Wavefront is aiming its 3D paint technology at Web artists.

Why will these graphics tools-along with other technologies for sending images, video, text, and sound over the Internet-have such a dramatic impact? We only need to look back to the last great reformation in mass media-the desktop-publishing revolution-for an answer. In fact, this was the comparison drawn by NAB keynote speaker John Warnock, chairman and CEO of Adobe Systems, which helped launch the desktop-publishing revolution in 1982 and is now introducing new Web content creation tools.

In the early days of desktop publishing, we saw "lots of really bad newsletters," Warnock recalls. For example, people tended to use as many different fonts as they could. But as users became more sophisticated, computer tools allowed many more magazines to be published, on much shorter deadlines, and with less and less money.

In effect, the new technology "democratized the authoring of information," Warnock contends. Before desktop publishing, the people who controlled the industry were those who owned the big presses and the expensive pre-press and post-production equipment. But when desktop publishing tools were introduced, virtually anyone could get into the act.

Now with the advent of new Web content-creation tools, more powerful platforms, and faster Internet connections, far more people will be able to produce Webcasts. In the beginning, we will see a great deal of experimentation, just as with desktop publishing. Most of it will probably be bad, but then the bar will be raised, and many more Webcasts will be produced, in less time and for less money.

One major difference between the desktop-publishing revolution and the Webcasting revolution, however, is that Webcasting will not simply democratize broadcasting; it will change its very nature. No longer will it be a passive, "I will talk, you will listen" medium. Viewers will have much more control over what information they will see, when they will see it, and how they will interact with it.

Thus, while offering substance, high-quality content, and sophisticated productions will be critical, merely transferring the traditional broadcasting model to the Internet will not be enough to ensure success. Nor, for that matter, will it be sufficient to move traditional publishing or business models to the Web. The winners in this new world will be those who can best tap into the two-way interactivity of the Internet and engage viewers, readers, and customers in the most effective and creative ways.

Phil LoPiccolo: Editor-in-Chief