Usama Najeeb, TBS Editorial Assistant
video--the transfer of video files on the Internet--can be accessed
by any computer connected to the Internet at high speed or via
broadband. With the increased availability of such connections,
which allow the transmission of larger amounts of data, including
larger pictures at higher resolution, and improved audio, to
individual users, a new kind of advanced television broadcasting
is becoming widely available. As such streaming video (and streaming
media in general, the latter term embracing radio broadcasting)
may be considered a further step towards building a hi-tech
knowledge-based society with more reliable and portable news
Streaming video augments the potential for TV broadcasting to
reach everyone. With the spread of high speed wireless Internet
connections, the availability and reliability of broadband broadcasting
increases. The use of the computer for TV reception restores
to broadcasting the convenience and portability of radio. (Portable
TV sets, on the other hand, usually have weak reception and
cannot be used for satellite broadcasting.)
TV on the Internet also has the advantage that it does not require
the permission of the host country, while reception requires
no more than a simple Internet connection. A single server is
now more than adequate to host a channel, especially with the
availability of more storage spaces at lower prices. The threat
of censorship and of pressure from host countries to influence
content are thus removed. With ownership of TV channels no longer
concentrated in government hands, video quality approaching
TV standards, world-wide wireless telecommunications coverage
hosted by big companies, and the introduction of mobile phones
with Internet access, streaming video is likely to provide an
important new weapon for the market against the state. At the
same time, the need for the self-regulation and accountability
systems appropriate to the new media grows.
stored as streaming video may be accessed at any time, it has
the further advantage of allowing TV stations to provide viewers
with programming on demand, reducing the risk of dissatisfaction
due to missed programs.
media is buffered from the server to the user and does not take
up permanent disk space on the user's computer. By the same
token, the user must be connected to the Internet to view it,
an aspect of the technology that has positive implications for
features common to digital media apply equally to streaming
video, meaning that the viewer can rewind and review all or
any part of the clip.
and advertising potential may also be enhanced through streaming
video, with consumers able to view advertisements for products
in which they are interested and witness demonstrations and
keyword, as in text services, is a feature that is due to be
introduced soon. Streaming media will thus become searchable
on the Internet, aiding research by providing material on demand
according to user-defined criteria.
video is not without its downsides, however. It depends on costly
technology that is beyond the reach of poor countries. Conventional
television broadcasting will therefore remain for some time
the main source of visual news wherever this technology is lacking
It may also
be the case that although it may be produced and distributed
through the Internet beyond the reach of government control,
the potential of streaming video to undermine totalitarian regimes
and destabilize entrenched private economic orders may also
threaten legitimate public authority and individual liberties.
These threats can only be faced through the development of international
institutions and common regulatory policies capable of addressing
challenges to national jurisdiction over global information
availability of streaming video to anyone who can afford it,
it may also comprise a potential hazard to national and global
security. Terrorists have been quick to take of advantage of
the medium for the propagation of their messages. With the aid
of small, high-resolution, digital video cameras and portable
computers with Internet connection terrorists are able to send
untraceable video messages to TV stations and policy makers.
Bin Laden and others have of course taken full advantage.
At a purely
technical level, there is a problem in that playback software
for streaming video is not standardized, some suppliers using
Real Media while others use Microsoft's Media Player. To reach
the widest base of users, suppliers will have to produce programs
in both formats.
is currently limited to news and music channels. CNN puts its
news bulletins on the Internet and sometimes broadcasts through
its website exclusive coverage of events deemed to be of sufficient
interest to their audience. Al Jazeera provides all its programs
on the Internet in video format, not to mention transcripts
of all programs for the previous four or five weeks. Melody
Hits, an up-and-coming Arab music channel on NileSat, puts all
its video clips on the Internet for access via a dial-up service
number. While quality is not as good as the MPEG format used
in DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite), it is on its way to improvement
with the widespread increase in using the Broadband services
around the Middle East.
On the international
level, America's MTV has long provided video streaming of the
latest music hits. The list is growing fast and the technology
is becoming more reliable as the computers and websites hosting
it are becoming more and more user-friendly and powerful.
remain, however. How will entertainment and state-owned channels
that do not have enough funding to host the service be affected?
What about encrypted feed channels, channels requiring subscription
on DBS, or service suppliers? Internet passwords are vulnerable
to hacking, implying the need for additional, costly security.
question is whether streaming video will continue to be available
as a free public service, or whether in the near future it will
require an access subscription. It also remains to be seen whether
it will be governed by national, international, or market laws.
In any case, the service is likely to provide substantial benefits
for those that have access to it.
Najeeb is a masters candidate at the American University
in Cairo's Adham Center and recipient of the Adham Center Fellowship.