Where Have All the Streaming Risk-Takers and Innovators Gone?

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Once upon a time, the online video sector was made up of the eccentrics. The disaffected ones. The rebels. The independents. The innovators.

Now, we are surrounded by the accountants, the lawyers, the regulators, and the paperwork.

Our work has increased in volume, but decreased in impact.

Sitting in our black box, tapping a single red “work” button, nowadays we feed our families but not our minds.

Having sworn in our youth to tear down walls, we now find ourselves producing the very cement that binds them together.

Those torn up PC shells no longer litter our floors, having been replaced with the bright blue of a couple of glowing LED charger lights and just a few tiny white machines that do everything through a Web.config page or voice command— without ever needing to know which way to turn a screwdriver to avoid stripping a screw.

The finger-cutting and soldered satisfaction of making two things do the seemingly impossible and actually function in the way you want them do has been replaced with GitHub and a sense of being late to the party.

Apps such as Periscope and Meerkat replace an entire workflow that once created countless exciting, skilled, and complex jobs for news-gathering teams and webcasters alike; all are now doomed to be replaced by a Twitter plug-in. Have we, the webcasters, been disintermediated in our own manor by a simple app? Yes, as much as the VOD industry was wrong-footed when Google underwrote the independent YouTube and when iTunes and Spotify undercut physical distribution of music.

With every sign that scalability for massive live online audiences can be met now, or at least very soon, it would appear that even 24/7 live and linear broadcasting can be delivered successfully online, ultimately sounding the death knell of the “traditional broadcast” model (albeit some years away) as henceforth, all technology stacks can converge on IP.

Today, the real innovation seems threadbare: We hear rumours about (but can’t get hold of) new compression technologies. We see build-and-they-will-come strategies with higher and higher definition resolutions. And we have to nod interestedly when our distribution network reduces its time-to-first-byte latency by an inconsequential amount.

So I ask again: Where is all the innovation?

Some years ago, every week brought a striking “new” technology model or tool that would spur furious debate online. Virtual nosebleeds were given over codecs and coffee, focusing on the merits of one paradigm versus another. The sparring would produce thrusting proofs; online streams were hailed for quality, or dissed for being sloppy ...

... and now ...

Now what exactly?

Now we open our phone on the walk home and sink into listening to exactly what we feel like—be it live or recorded—or even start a video call with others that will cost nothing, a call that 20 years ago was a technical impossibility without hiring a team of production engineers with a webcaster among them.

Have we just become normalized to our own industry? Has streaming been sublimated into our collective sense of the ordinary? Should we be surprised that now everyone knows what streaming is? It’s in the bus stops, on the supermarket shelves, almost literally everywhere.

Has streaming become so totally commoditized that there is no longer any great challenge in trying to improve it? It seems that all there is left to do is simply use it.

I feel compelled to try to break it again.

This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of Streaming Media European Edition as "Where Have All the Risk-Takers Gone?”

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