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As streaming video use heats up, a solid business case is key

From the stadium to the White House, video streaming can make sense -- if monetized properly.

Streaming video is finding its way into more and more businesses, from hospitals to high-end electronic vendors, but building a business case is critical to keeping projects rolling in a down economy.

Industry experts suggest, for example, pinning projects to ways to cut costs, by streaming specialists to in-store kiosks or over the Web rather than hiring experts for every store.  

"It's like a video contact center application," said Sheila McGee-Smith, president of Amherst, N.H.-based unified communications consultancy McGee-Smith Analytics. She said agents could work remotely, placed in front of high-definition video equipment where they could be called upon -- from down the street or across the world -- to answer specialized questions on demand, eliminating the need to have staff on duty (but underutilized) in smaller branches.

It's the kind of service McGee-Smith found herself wanting when she was confronted with a customer service problem a few years ago. Seeking out a home loan, she went to a branch office of a national chain only to be told to call an 800 number because no loan specialists were on staff. That staffing problem could translate to lost sales; in this case, a $2 million loan.

Examples like McGee-Smith's bank experience illustrate how much revenue companies stand to gain by preventing such lost sales and by expanding their ability to sell new services. They should keep this in mind when examining the potential costs of streaming video services.

"It's going to come down to what costs you're replacing, or what the value of the product is," she said.

Even as consumer spending is being reined in, some verticals are still finding the second part of that equation invaluable. For example, Cisco has been continuing to expand its deployments of StadiumVision, which streams live game footage to monitors throughout a sports stadium -- not only giving a perfect view to patrons in line for a hot dog but also providing custom data based on other factors, such as location, so that after the game each monitor can help manage pedestrian traffic flow.

That technology is beginning to crop up in arenas like the new Yankee Stadium, set to open in April. Venue Operators such as AEG are also embracing the technology to help increase attendance by making the experience more memorable and the congestion less miserable as they struggle to boost attendance by cash-strapped consumers.

McGee-Smith said "big ticket" items -- say, stadium seats or HDTVs -- often make it easier to justify installing and maintaining video systems, whether for customer support, sales, or as an added perk, while similar technology that has been available for years has failed to catch on in broader retail because the economics simply do not support the extra investment.

There is, after all, not only a hefty capital expenditure for the video cameras, displays and software needed to deploy streaming video effectively but also an ongoing operational expenditure for bandwidth, servers and maintenance of the systems.

All these factors can add up quickly and can be daunting, particularly if a solid return on investment (ROI) is not projected, which is why Mio Babic, president and CEO of managed video provider iStreamPlanet, suggests that his clients have firm objectives in mind before starting: Are they trying to monetize their streams? Is the video for training, educational or publicity purposes?

Once those objectives are decided upon, Babic also recommends taking a close look at integration, saying that a solution which appears cobbled together will at best fail to attract users and at worst open up your site to security threats or hacking.

Instead, Babic suggests that companies leverage video suites that tightly integrate the functionality they want with the video player itself, such as a quiz alongside an e-learning video or live user commentary alongside a political event, like President Obama's recent inauguration, which iStreamPlanet helped stream for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

"If you want to engage the audience, you have to interact, you have to be immersive," Babic said, pointing to iStreamPlanet's integration work with CNN and Facebook. "That's the promise of Web 2.0."

Email news writer Michael Morisy your thoughts on this or any other news ideas you would like to see covered.

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