Streaming in the European B2B Space: The Next Big Opportunity

Streaming media has made huge progress in the last five years, becoming an established distribution platform for consumer content. As AOL Chairman and CEO Jonathan Miller said in January, “In Europe, 61% (of users) use their computers to watch video." The BBC’s launch of a cross-section of programming onto a streaming platform over the last 12 months has also greatly enhanced the perceived acceptability of streaming as a method of distribution.

But streaming has not as yet become a true mass-market proposition. When the BBC launches the MyBBCPlayer platform in September, we will see another significant step towards the ubiquity of video on PC. There is still, however, significant development required in the European market to turn it into a real platform of choice for business-to-business (B2B) communications.

Currently in the borderlands between the B2B and consumer spaces, the mass acceptance of streaming content as a core part of online investor relations (IR) is the most prominent and obvious success. CEO briefings on results and the streaming of analyst calls are now seen by the majority of businesses as a required activity rather than a luxury, with 92% of companies in the FTSE 100 offering some streamed material based around their reporting activity, according to a March 2006 BroadView Communications report. The streaming IR market across Europe is in fact quickly reaching maturity, as its growing commoditisation suggests.

CSR Reports
The next area to drive growth in the use of streaming media will be the corporate sector. “We are seeing average corporate client streaming doubling in capacity every eight months,” says Craig Moehl, managing director of European streaming solutions provider Groovy Gecko. FTSE 100 companies are already using streaming media to begin to engage consumers but are now also seeking to engage not only other businesses but also their supply chain and key partners. The increase in interest in this area of B2B communication has been driven largely by the increasing importance of two key areas, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and thought leadership.

CSR—and some of the disciplines derived from it, such as social accounting—have seen significant increase in their value over the last five years. Worldwide, 64% of Global Top 250 companies produced CSR reports in 2005; in the UK, that figure was 71%, according to the KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2005. The true value of CSR has rapidly become apparent, with companies who have embraced CSR reporting showing early evidence of increased profitability. There is also evidence of consumers becoming more aware of CSR issues, with this feeding through into increased consumer pressure to actively demonstrate CSR. With the increase in the importance of CSR comes the need to communicate more effectively and better educate the supply chains.

Due to the geographically distributed nature of supply chains and key stakeholders, this has led to the use of streaming media as a way to shorten distance and share best practice, as well as increase the opportunities to more deeply engage key stakeholders.

The initial development of streaming for B2B communication was driven by a need to promote and develop CSR. Where businesses are using streaming technology to share CSR best practice amongst peers internally, they are frequently seeking to leverage this content to create an external platform for thought leadership. The internal material is often being adapted so that it can be used with key stakeholder audiences. As a driver for content creation internally, the role these materials play within a company should not be underestimated. But it is within the interface between partners and key stakeholders where this content is beginning to show signs of having a major impact on B2B communication.

By creating these thought leadership communications, large businesses are ensuring they are creating a more robust CSR profile upon which their supply chains are increasingly having to deliver. For example, diversified resources company BHP Billiton—a business that has been perceived to have a large environmental impact—now reviews the CSR reporting of all potential partners to ensure they are compatible with their business ideals. This hopefully ensures that all possible environmental impacts are accounted for and the measures implemented to offset any imbalance are clearly stated.

Communicating with Stakeholders
The next stage of this progression is the creation of channels of direct communication with the key stakeholders.

Companies employing streaming in this space use it in three ways:
Webcasting: The streaming of “real-world” events enabling key stakeholders to view a presentation or workshop online rather than attend in person.
Web briefings: A top-down direct communication or presentation from a key industry or company figure. These can cover product briefings, share best practices, or even outline management changes.
Web seminars: The creation of live or on-demand programming specifically designed and produced to be streamed on the web
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