InternetUniversity: Streaming

In its broadest definition, streaming media is a constant current or flow of mass communication. Thanks to this technology, users can listen to music and watch video in real time over the Internet. So, how does it work? Let’s use streaming audio as an example. When attempting to listen to music over the Internet, users are faced with two options. They can download the entire audio file to their computer or they can stream it. Downloading the entire file takes too much time and hard disk space. But, by using technology such as RealPlayer or Windows Media Player, users can download portions of the file at a time and play it from a buffer, which cuts down on both time and required disk space. These programs download enough of the file to fill the buffer, usually a couple of seconds, and then play from there. If at any point the Internet connection is disturbed or lost, the buffer empties and playing stops. The buffer must then be refilled before playing can resume.

To further streamline the streaming process, the audio files are optimized before they are available for download. By lowering sampling rate and filtering out extremely high and low frequencies, the file is compressed during a process called encoding. Encoding audio files sacrifices sound quality for the sake of file size. But as encoding processes become more efficient and average bandwidth increases, this will change.

So, what does this have to do with advertising? Think radio on the web. When users listen to their local radio station over the Internet, they’re hearing local ads during that stream. Technology is now being developed to allow web advertisers to place ads in this streaming content. One such company, RCS (, has developed two different technologies to deal with streaming audio on the Internet: InSert and SplitStream. InSert can replace any given spot in the audio stream with an alternate spot. The more sophisticated SplitStream uses profile information to insert targeted ads—which may include graphics and links back to the advertiser—into an audio stream.

With these technologies, the audio signal coming from the radio station is split. One signal goes to a radio transmitter and the other to a RCS server. This allows RCS, using InSert, to replace any broadcast radio ad with an online one while the other signal still delivers the original broadcast ad to the radio transmitter and out to listeners. The RCS SplitStream web server works in the same way except it uses databases full of profiling information to deliver targeted ads to the broadcast listeners on the web. So, while listening to the same Internet broadcast, Amy might be served up with a Victoria Secret ad while Lee listens to a Budweiser commercial, and the original radio ad still is being served to all of the radio listeners.

With this type of technology being developed, Internet advertisers stand to break new ground with streaming media. Can this type of ad insertion be far off for broadcast television shows on the Internet? Somewhere in the not-too-distant future, people from all over the world tuning into the same streaming media broadcast will be served their own targeted ads— resulting in higher response rates for advertisers.

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