Last week's unveiling of HDWeb from Akamai (disclaimer: a VideoNuze sponsor), coupled with Limelight's recent announcement of its LimelightHD service offering, further raise the visibility and near-term prospect of higher-quality video streaming.
Underlining this was the impressive array of support in the two press releases from customers willing to be quoted expressing their interest in HD. I read all this as putting to rest any doubts about whether content providers are interested in offering HD. Supporting Akamai's release were MTV, NBA, Gannett, while supporting Limelight's release were Fox Interactive, Brightcove, Adobe, Silverlight and Rajshri.com (India's #1 broadband portal).
Content providers I talk to are enthusiastic about pushing the quality bar, though a key issue is cost of delivery and potential ROI. Obviously to push out HD-quality streams means higher bandwidth and storage needs, the 2 key drivers of CDN charges. To support higher costs, improved revenue potential is required. And this is why HD rollouts are dependent on broadband video advertising prospects.
With ad support the primary business model for broadband video, I think a chicken-and-egg dynamic between ads and HD is going to play out. The better the ad revenue prospects, the more willing content providers will be to invest in HD. This is a reminder of why further maturing of broadband video ad models and supporting technologies are so important. So while the paid download model will also continue to grow, if you really want to get a handle on HD's prospects, keep an eye on the broadband video ad business. Continued traction will govern how much HD we'll all be seeing.
In the mean time, HDWeb from Akamai provides an enticing glimpse of an online HD future. I had no problem accessing its content over my standard Comcast broadband connection. The video quality is unlike anything I've yet seen online. If you get a chance, take a look at the NBA highlights clip (screen shot below). The clarity is mind-boggling.
Can Akamai actually deliver this at scale? At the recent Akamai analyst day I attended, Chief Scientist/co-founder Tom Leighton said their network roadmap is to have 100TB of capacity by 2010, which could theoretically support 50 million concurrent 2MB streams. We're a long way from that usage level, but Akamai seems to be squarely focused on making HD a reality. And they're not alone, along with Limelight there are numerous other HD CDN initiatives underway. All this means that the video quality bar will inevitably rise.