Infrastructure
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12/30/2005
03:13 PM
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IPTV: Another Fun Way To Waste Time At Work

At the risk of being cast as paranoid productivity cops, business managers may find it difficult to stop TV and video viewing from joining personal E-mail, instant messaging, and blogs as online productivity drains.

CBS last week began streaming episodes of two sitcoms, "Two And A Half Men" and "How I Met Your Mother," on Yahoo Inc.'s Web site, where viewers can watch them for free until Jan. 2. The move closely follows other forays into the new territory of Internet Protocol-based TV, or IPTV, which is creating much buzz in the telecom, IT, and media industries.

NBC Universal last month started selling episodes of TV shows including "The Office" and "Law & Order" at Apple Computer's iTunes store. Others selling TV episodes on iTunes include ABC, Sci Fi Channel, USA Network, and Disney.

The networks aren't the only ones jumping in. Google Inc. last month said it would acquire 5% of America Online, and part of the deal includes collaborating on video services and content.

But while these efforts open the door to an additional, potentially lower-cost delivery model for video content, they create some interesting challenges for businesses. At the risk of being cast as paranoid productivity cops, business managers may find it difficult to stop TV and video viewing from joining personal E-mail, instant messaging, and blogs as online productivity drains. Streaming video also is a bandwidth eater, often requiring as much as 300 Kbps to be viewed. At 300 Kbps there's greater security risk than, say, an IP-based telephone call at 30 Kbps. "You're opening up a very fast hole for harmful data to be transferred," says Scott Montgomery, VP of product management at Secure Computing Corp., a provider of network security products, including Web-filtering applications.

According to Websense Inc.'s May survey on employee computing trends, listening to or watching streaming media is the most popular computer-based activity at work. Research firm Harris Interactive, which conducted the survey for Websense by interviewing 500 full-time employees at companies of varying size, found that 18% of employees use the Internet to listen to the radio or watch live newscasts.

Network managers can take the drastic measure of blocking all streaming video using filtering tools. But that's not an option for businesses that need the capability, such as stock brokerages that rely on the Web for news feeds and live trading reports. A less extreme approach is to set video-streaming access policies around different types of users. Web-filtering tools can be configured to block just video content that's deemed inappropriate or unnecessary to the business, and prevent access to Web sites that stream music videos and sitcoms.

Newport News Public Schools, with about 33,200 students and 5,000 employees in Newport News, Va., uses streaming video and audio content as part of the teaching curriculum. "Our biggest concern is filtering out bad video content that we don't want to expose kindergartners to," says John Savage, director of IT for the schools.

The schools are using a combination of an in-house firewall security system and SurfControl plc's Web-filtering software to block unwanted video and audio content, and help the schools control the amount of bandwidth being used.

Policies on Internet use limit school employees and students access to certain Web sites. A new reporting and time capability in SurfControl's software lets IT administrators define days and times when Web sites containing streaming video can be accessed. "In education, we're in the same boat with advertising and media-services companies that can't blindly turn off video streaming because it's essential to their business," Savage says. "It's not about blocking video but about managing content."

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