We're getting much closer to the world of dumb clients... and that's a smart thing.
Five years ago, the conversation about live video streaming was always relegated to a conversation about "the pipe" (the technology and the ability to deliver this type of data intensive media with the same flawless flow as broadcast TV). While it's still not perfect and many people still grumble over video buffering issues while they try to watch on their computers, tablets and smartphones, the technology is improving and we're getting very close to that moment in time when grabbing and watching videos will be as speedy and flow-perfect as grabbing your email. The biggest change is going to be that you won't have to really download anything, as all content will not only live in the cloud, but will be accessible to you on-demand.
This isn't streaming as you've thought of streaming to date.
Amongst media and marketing professionals, the idea of streaming is more commonly thought of as a way to broadcast live where the data and information is never stored on the consumer's hard drive -- they can simply enjoy the content (text, images, audio and/or video) live and "in the moment." That is the streaming of yesterday. The streaming of today looks very different. Take a look at what Apple is attempting with their upcoming iCloud product. The idea is that all of your content (or the data you used to save on your hard drive) will now be stored "in the cloud." This way, whether you're opening your laptop, tinkering with your iPad or roaming with your iPhone, the content that you want can be streamed from one central location and acts as if it is resident on your hard drive (it's also pretty great if your hardware crashes... now you won't lose everything). Now, push this even further and imagine that your content is not just the things you have downloaded to date, but it now becomes anything and everything that can be sold via iTunes (and beyond). Suddenly, the notion of streaming has a new paradigm. The world's catalogue of content is now your catalogue.
Imagine a media world...
Imagine a media world where the consumer doesn't own any one piece of content, but simply has unlimited access (for a fee) to any piece of content on any of the devices they choose. In essence, you own it all. This is the true promise of streaming and it's the type of technology and media delivery mechanism that should get the traditional broadcasters and publishers either extremely nervous or amazingly innovative. Consumers used to be very different. We collected this content and built shelving in our home to store it and display it to our friends. This is what Seth Godin now refers to as "the artifact" -- having a record collection, a library of books, or a DVD collection. As the digitization of media continues to evolve, the idea of having these collections becoming akin to the way certain individuals collect old Coke signs (it's more about the art than the functional use). The majority of people will simply be able to access every type of TV show, movie, music artists, book, magazine, newspaper, radio station, etc... when they want, on the device they want and they won't need any hard disk space for it or built-in shelving units to house it.
Bandwidth is the new hard disk space.
As the Internet becomes the ultimate archive for all of your personal stuff (photos, emails, etc...) and it's mixed with the full streaming of content, bandwidth becomes the new hard drive. This will be the big (and hard) media hurdle. To date, the cable and mobile carriers have made it difficult. Many of them have invested lots of money in existing infrastructure that becomes out-of-date much quicker than they can recoup their investment. We have issues of bandwidth throttling and the ability to have unlimited data is becoming (once again) a topic of heated discourse. The truth is that technology can't be stopped. Unlimited data through high speed and mobile access is an inevitability and it's also going to be an amazing media experience for the consumer. Getting the content producers, hardware manufacturers and access providers to play nicely (and fair) is where the challenge lies. This form of streaming is inevitable, and once consumers experience it and understand it... they're going to demand it.
If you thought broadband changed everything, just wait until you see what the streaming future of media holds for us all.
Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. HIs first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller.
Follow Mitch Joel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mitchjoel