Editors note: Dana Greenlees technology column is appearing one day early – again – to make room in tomorrows paper for another story.
Last fall, Microsoft launched a free streaming-video service so that anyone with a decent connection to the Internet, DSL and cable are your best bets, can catch up on segments from The Today Show, the Discovery Channel and other TV content right on their computer and at a time that suits them.
As Microsofts streaming media evangelist, Todd Herman works hard from his Redmond office to make sure we know that Microsoft is doing what their competitors generally are not quality video content, whenever you want and without a subscription fee.
Herman began working in streaming media shortly after its inception. In 1998, he founded theDial in Seattle, (now Loudeye Radio), which served private labeled audio and technology to top Web properties. As president of Mediagasm, he consulted with media and technology companies including Microsoft and MSNBC.com, which eventually grew into his position as streaming media evangelist for MSNBC.com.
Todd talked to us about how the big software company to the north is bringing TV into our homes through our PCs.
Q: What is your role at MSNBC?
Herman: I came here as a consultant from my company Mediagasm. I surprised myself by taking a job working for someone else for the first time since 96. My role is streaming media evangelist. My job is three-fold: strategy, product and sales strategy and communicating with customers and salespeople about selling streaming video. I do that for MSN in addition to MSNBC.
Q: In October 2003 you announced MSNBC would be offering a free video service. What actually is the service and whats available today?
Herman: MSNBC was asked to build this for the MSN network so its available at MSN.com and MSNBC.com. We looked at the markets and determined that of the 56 million people per month who stream, less than a million have signed up for subscription services.
We thought that free was probably the way to go and thats what MSN is a way to watch free video at a really high-quality at 300k. We also have the ability to drizzle cache content on the hard drive so that it can download MSN Enhanced video in the background and users enjoy content of up to 750k of near-TV quality. You dont have to do anything except download MSN Enhanced at MSN.com or MyMSN or MSNBC.com. We are downloading video bit by bit and suddenly you have a 750k file of sports from the NHL or music videos from MSN Entertainment or great clips from Discovery or Trading Places.
Q: One thing youre doing differently from the other news organizations is youre not doing the Pay to Play model. What is MSNs revenue model and how is that sustained being able to serve all this audio and video content?
Herman: Keep in mind were not just a news organization. MSN is an information/communication system. MSNBC is definitely the best news organization on the Web. The way we enable this is we have the biggest advertisers on Earth joining the service. They like the streaming media audience. They consider them smart and savvy. They are an audience that is getting harder and harder to reach on TV.
Because were working within Microsoft, there are a lot of things we can take advantage of the other companies cant. Some of that is we do smart things with our bandwidth and we manage our back end. When youre talking about doing things off of MSN, youre talking about a site that reaches nearly 65 percent of all the Internet users. Its that scale that really allows us to drive this home. Our ability to be technically smart with tools like MSN Video Enhanced allows us to really achieve good cost savings.
Q: What video is actually available today?
Herman: Right now there is NBC News which includes Dateline NBC, The Today Show and all its clips and Tom Brokaw and the election coverage. You think that the Washington Post or Associated Press are on a lot of places online, but you can only get Dateline NBC, The Today Show and Imus in the Morning from MSNBC Video.
Q: Are you only distributing MSNBC content?
Herman: No. You can already come to MSN Video and get the Discovery Channel, Home and Garden Television, the Weather Channel, the NHLall for free.
Q: What is the licensing model for these content providers with MSN? Are they getting paid a syndication fee?
Herman: There are a lot of ways we do deals. I think if I were to disclose that to you, the long hand of Bill would slap me really hard!
We are actively looking to work with content providers. If people have great content, they want to contact us and we will work out a great deal thats best for them. We simply cant do this on our own. While we have the MSNBC assets, we dont have the film assets and the music video assets to make this a wide-ranging consumer-friendly product.
Q: Is this free video service part of an integrated strategy at Microsoft?
Herman: Yes! Its been fascinating. When I was a consultant, my job was to talk to the industry and try to determine that there really is a business case to do free video. In the midst of doing that, Bill G. (Gates) wrote and e-mailed out to the video groups saying essentially Thou shalt have free video. Theres something that happens in Redmond the ground shakes, the sky becomes a little brighter when Bill speaks and that happened! Weve watched the executives embrace it so we have become really a part of the greater strategy. The payoff to the consumer means more free content is on its way with more deals like with Atom Films great stuff!
Q: You are targeting the broadband users. What do you classify as broadband?
Herman: DSL or cable with at least 100k up to 300k. We dont make a narrowband version of MSN Video. The lawyers at Microsoft are very careful and made us make sure that if you have a modem connection you can log on, but the results are not going to be a very satisfying experience for them.
You can watch MSN video at msnvideo.msn.com/video. The full audio interview with Todd Herman is available at StreamingMediaShow.com.
Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.
This Saturdays WebTalk Radio show guests include Gary Stock, who coined the term and popular pastime Google Whacking. Also, the CEO of Speedwires.com will talk about getting broadband Internet access over power lines. WebTalk Radio is heard at 11 a.m. Saturday on KLAY-AM (1180) and 10 p.m. Tuesday on KVTI-FM (90.9).