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9/29/2006
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YouTooCanTube: How Businesses Can Put Web Video To Use

New products from Cisco and others will help them make informal video like YouTube's relevant to their companies.

Diet Coke & Mentos
If you still forward joke E-mails around, you're out of the loop. The in crowd swaps YouTube clips.

The Web 2.0-inspired phenomenon of short, snappy video delivery--Google, MSN, Yahoo, and others are following YouTube's lead--is one mainstream companies must embrace. Increasingly, employees and customers expect to consume and create information in video form, without all the formality that accompanies it today. It's up to IT departments to make that possible.

Vendors are pitching new ways to get your company into the mix. Cisco Systems last week launched a business unit called Digital Media Systems that's selling encoders to turn video into digital formats; a media server to host searchable, categorized video; and a portal that lets companies brand their own Web-based video players. The suite starts at $130,000, challenging a pack of smaller infrastructure vendors in this market.

Most businesses won't go near the freewheeling, user-generated content that makes YouTube, with its 8 million page views a day, a blockbuster. "What you have to be careful of is the CEO taking a look at YouTube and saying, 'Why would I want in my business a video of a kid running his bicycle into a telephone pole?'" says Rich Mavrogeanes, founder and CTO of VBrick Systems, which has a product that competes with Cisco's.

Instead, expect a lot of cautious first steps in the coming year as companies experiment with Web video. One such effort involves monitoring factory lines--not exactly the stuff of YouTube.

An intrepid few companies already are pushing beyond the video applications long popular in the business world--for internal communications and training. For example, Frito-Lay is challenging people to make their own Doritos commercials for possible play during the Super Bowl. Submissions will be screened, though, and only five finalists will be posted for public viewing on Yahoo Video. And, after homemade videos of the foam eruptions that come from dropping Mentos into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke became a huge hit on video sites, Mentos itself bought ad placement on the original video at Revver.com.

Video At Work
Cisco is going after a growing segment of the business market in which production quality isn't up to TV standards, but the video is much easier to produce. The company's products already are being used by government agencies to broadcast, for instance, live town hall meetings to remote offices and to provide battleground briefings to central command. At colleges, professors are recording classes and using Web portals to host video and presentations online. Banks and retailers are creating training videos that employees can watch from their desktops.

"Three years ago, you had to prove video's value to enterprises," says Thomas Wyatt, general manager of Cisco's Digital Media Systems business unit. "Today, the conversation isn't about 'why do I need it?'' but 'how do I get started?'"

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For one thing, it takes a good amount of infrastructure: encoders and decoders, set-top boxes, portal software, Web player software, video servers, cameras, and videoconferencing equipment. Of course, Cisco wants to be a one-stop source for all that. Digital Media Systems bundles encoders, a media server, portal software, and the player, so that customers can plug a camera into the encoder, which captures the video and sends it into the media servers, where it can be categorized, stored, and pushed to desktops. Cisco's biggest advantage in dealing with high-bandwidth video may be its network capabilities, such as caching. "Without this, video files could bring a network to its knees," says Ira Weinstein, an analyst at Wainhouse Research, which specializes in rich media content.

Though Cisco lends a big name to integrated video systems, there are smaller vendors such as VBrick Systems, with big-name customers such as Ford, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, and Qualcomm. VBrick last week introduced version 4.0 of its EtherneTV Media Distribution System, which starts at $30,000 and includes a server, portal software, and a portable appliance that's similar to an encoder.

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