FOCUS: BUSINESS TELEVISION - BTV is now at a screen near you/High quality business television that is delivered directly to PCs offers huge potential for training as well as enabling broadcasters to reach wider audiences. Nick Purdom reports

Desktop business television, - delivered to target audiences via the internet - is fast becoming a reality.

Desktop business television, - delivered to target audiences via

the internet - is fast becoming a reality.



’A lot of customers are asking us about intranet and internet

television,’ says Brad McGill, product marketing manager for business

television at BT. Desktop delivery of business television (BTV) sounds

wonderful, but McGill advises against viewing it as a panacea to all

communications needs.



’We’re saying look very carefully at the application and decide if the

quality supports it,’ he says. BTV in its purest sense has traditionally

meant live programmes delivered by satellite to groups watching on

televisions or large screens. Desktop deliverywould change the whole

nature of the medium. ’With desktop delivery you lose one of the main

benefits of satellite BTV - people interacting and discussing the points

raised in a group,’ says McGill.



So what are the applications for desktop BTV? ’One of the key areas we

see is training,’ says McGill. He suggests this is particularly

appropriate because not only is training commonly done on personal

computers, but image quality does not need to be very high as the video

content is typically a head and shoulders shot of a trainer.



Other desktop BTV applications will, however, require higher image

quality.



If conventional BTV programmes or image-sensitive material, like new

product or procedural information is to be successfully delivered to the

desktop, then it is important that image quality does not detract from

the message.



The issue at the moment is how to get that quality. Telephone lines,

even ISDN lines, simply do not have the bandwidth to transmit

data-hungry video images. As BTV specialist Alan Joy of Video

Communication Consultants points out, ’Live video over the internet is

very basic and crude.’



In BTV, the problem is how to transmit video from the broadcasting site

to desktops at many receiving sites without losing image quality. One

solution is satellite.



Espresso Productions has been trialing desktop delivery of video using

satellite to schools in Oxfordshire. Using Data Broadcasting Network

(DBN) technology from NDS supplied by satellite provider GlobeCast,

Espresso has delivered content based on the national curriculum to two

schools.



’DBN technology is ideally suited to delivering video-rich content to

large numbers of schools at low costs without the delays of the web,’

says Espresso managing director, Tony Boden.



Technology developments are making satellite more attractive says

GlobeCast chief executive, Sarah Williams. ’The size of dishes has come

down to 80 to 90cm and the cost is around pounds 300 to pounds 500

each,’ she says. Boden compares this with the cost of installing a fibre

optic network, which he says could cost pounds 30,000 to pounds

50,000.



The scope for satellite delivery of video to the desktop is huge,

believes Williams. ’The potential applications are vast including

product launches and training. Encryption is the only issue holding up

rolling this out on a larger scale. Once this product is up and running,

I think the market will take off.’



Boden says he is already in discussions with a very large technology

company that is interested in delivering employee training to PCs at

work and home. ’This will be a huge project if it comes off and there

are lots of others of a similar nature,’ says Boden.



Organisations that already have satellite networks in place, or that can

get the planning permission needed to install satellite dishes, may be

tempted to opt for satellite delivery of video to the desktop. But

alternatives are being developed.



Video streaming involves the real-time interactive transfer of video

from a remote server to a client browser over a network. Live webcast

video can be streamed in real-time across the network to many viewers,

and interactive operations such as rewind, fast forward and pause can be

performed.



The quality of streamed video, though, depends on the capabilities of

the network. Using a 28.8kbit/second modem, image size is only 160x120

pixels and the frame rate is four frames per second, which means you get

a very jerky image. However, a LAN (Local Area Network) capable of

handling data at 2Mbit/second gives an image size of 640x480 pixels and

25 frames per second, the same as standard television.



British Airways plans to make video available on its intranet at its new

Waterside corporate headquarters near Heathrow. The new hi-tech office

complex has a high-capacity ATM communications network. ’The building

has the IT architecture to be able to support intranet television,’ says

Stephen Watson, managing director of CTN, the production company that

makes BA’s twice-weekly BTV programme. ’You need a fairly big pipe to

move video around. Anyone putting in a network now would have that,’ he

adds.



Intranet TV presents a new challenge, believes Watson. ’We’re looking at

how you create content that works with the technology. You can use

pictures, text, sound and graphics. At the moment we make a 10 minute

programme for BATV and if we do a 10 minute interview with a BA

director, only 30 seconds may end up in the programme. In an on-line

environment you can make the whole interview available and the user can

decide what he wants, so he effectively plays the role of editor.

Intranet TV can become a huge source of information.’



BT began trialing its fortnightly BTV programme BT Vision on its

intranet using video streaming in March 1997. Video runs in a 160x120

pixel window on the left-hand side of the screen, while below it there

is a list of contents with hyperlinks for non-linear access to different

stories. On the right hand side, a frame synchronised to the audio and

video track provides detailed graphical or textual information relating

to the news story being watched.



’Contrary to initial expectations, few people have commented about the

size of the video window,’ says Andrew Grace, team leader for video

streaming research at BT Networks and Systems. ’People have said that it

is difficult to read text or slides that appear in the video window

during a live webcast. For this reason, slides for a live presentation

are obtained in advance and are made available in a frame on the www

page.’



Although there may be some limitations to desktop delivery of video

using the internet and intranets now, most people in the industry

believe this is the way BTV will go. ’There are rapidly emerging

technologies that will allow BTV to be delivered to the desktop.

Investing in satellite hardware looks increasingly questionable,’ says

Gus Colquhoun of production company Jacaranda.



Jacaranda currently produces regular employee communications on video

cassette for retailers like The Body Shop, Somerfield and WH Smith, but

Colquhoun believes that even in this sector there is potential for

desktop delivery. ’Many retailers are not able to have all their staff

watching at one time, so the live and interactive features of satellite

BTV tend not to be important,’ says Colquhoun.



’Once you get to the level of personal interaction offered by desktop

delivery, you have far more choice about whether you watch a programme

and when you watch it - it removes the obligation to sit down in one

room and watch a programme,’ he adds.



Martin Batt, business television controller at Halifax plc, which has a

well-established satellite BTV network, also has high hopes for internet

and intranet delivery of video. ’Satellite is still the most economic

way of delivering BTV at the moment, but there are some sites in our

network where we can’t deliver satellite because of planning issues.

Longer term, I see delivery of programmes on a data network as the

solution to that - but the costs have got to be right.’



DTI INNOVATION: REACHING OUT TO A WIDER AUDIENCE



In keeping with its title, the DTI Innovation Unit was looking for an

innovative way of presenting the eighth DTI Innovation lecture at the

end of March.



One of the unit’s primary objectives was to increase the size of the

audience for the annual event, which was normally around 3,500 to 4,000

people. It also wanted to make the event more relevant to the target

audience of directors of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) by

giving them more opportunity to participate. The solution it chose was

BTV.



Production company CTN was called in to broadcast the event from BAFTA

in London to 63 venues around the country where businessmen had gathered

to hear a keynote address by Virgin chairman Richard Branson and discuss

the human aspects of innovation. ’This year we changed the format and

extended the interactivity,’ explains CTN director of programmes Gary

Mitchell. ’Rather than delivering a set-piece lecture, Richard Branson

was responding to questions raised by the audience so we had a much more

fluid, interactive presentation.’ The event had a Question Time type

format, with an on-stage presenter controlling the flow of information

and bringing in questions from the audience. Interactivity was further

increased because the audience was able to ask questions on e-mail via

Virgin Net, as well as by the more traditional means of the

telephone.



’The e-mail facility gave many more people the opportunity to interact

and meant we could group questions around a certain subject and inject

these into the programme at an appropriate time,’ says Mitchell.



The interactive nature of the event certainly seemed to appeal to the

target audience. Around 8,000 people attended, an 80 per cent increase

on the previous year. ’We reached a much larger audience than you could

without using this form of communication. You would not get 8,000 people

to come to London. This way we were able to take the event to people

locally,’ says Mitchell.



Of the 7,800 or so who responded to the post-event questionnaire, 90 per

cent said that the event and the content were relevant to their business

and that they could apply the lessons learnt from Branson. Eighty per

cent rated the interactive discussion as good or very good.



’BTV, particularly with interactivity, gives people a feeling that they

are part of an event,’ comments Mitchell. ’This event was more of a

dialogue than a lecture. That’s how the technology makes a difference,

by turning people from viewers to participants. This is essential to

what we are trying to achieve in BTV, otherwise you might as well send

out a video and ask people to watch it.’



VIDEO WEB SITES: LIVENING UP INTERNET INFORMATION



Business television has been used almost exclusively for employee

communications so far, but developments in internet and extranet

technology - in which part or all of a companies intranet can be made

available to outsiders - will make it possible to reach external

audiences as well.



Hi-tech PR agency Banner PR is in the process of launching a web site

that will include video interviews with some of its clients on topical

issues in the IT industry.



’We are keen to enliven our web site and do video interviews with

clients. It’s a cheap way of communicating with stakeholders rather than

holding a video conference at huge expense,’ says Banner account

director, Martin Forrest.



Video interviews are relatively easy to set up using a camcorder says

Forrest. ’You don’t have to go through a long production process, so

interviews can be very timely.’ It is also a fairly simple matter to add

video to web sites using software such as Java and Flashpoint, adds

Forrest.



Banner expects to launch the web site in a couple of months, and Forrest

says video interviews with clients Shiva, which produces teleworking

technology, and Microtouch, a manufacturer of touchscreens, are likely

to form part of the launch package.



So who will view the video web site? ’Clients will give expert opinions

on areas of interest and I expect journalists and potential clients and

recruits will want to look at it. We will e-mail people to let them know

a particular area is being discussed,’ says Forrest.



As for the future, Forrest adds ’I think we will use video interviews

more and more. It helps us develop relationships with clients and is

useful in putting across headline information to journalists.’



High street companies are also looking at the possibility of using BTV

to communicate with external audiences.



Martin Batt, business television controller at Halifax plc, which has

the largest BTV network in the UK, says: ’It’s not part of our strategy

at the moment, but there is certainly potential in the future. We might

want to talk to first time buyers about mortgages, for example, and we

could invite them into seminars at our branches linked by our BTV

network.’



Batt adds that Halifax already puts video on its web site. ’We put clips

from the presentation of our annual results on our web site,’ he

says.



’If video adds value to a message we will use it, but the problems of

video on the internet are well known and until the technology improves a

lot, we won’t make extensive use of it.’



INTERACTIVITY: A LEARNING EXPERIENCE



One of BTV’s strongest selling points has always been that it can be

live and interactive. Traditionally interactivity has taken the form of

viewers at remote sites putting questions to management at the broadcast

site via audio links. But nowadays more sophisticated forms of

interactivity are becoming popular.



American company One Touch Systems has installed its interactive keypad

technology in 20,000 sites worldwide and claims to have a 95 per cent

market share. ’This technology started in training and has now become

what we’d call interactive broadcasting,’ says Nick Sacke, managing

director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for One Touch.



Interactive Distance Learning (IDL), in which trainees at remote sites

can use a keypad and in-built microphone to respond to a trainer, has

been the most popular application. Now some organisations in the US are

extending this concept and creating educational TV networks says

Sacke.



’Certain corporations, for example Ford, are forming their own private

career-enhancement channels and have contacted universities to provide

specialist courses up to Masters level.’



But for all its success in the US, interactive keypad technology has not

really caught on in Europe. Sacke says there are 10 networks in Europe

currently using the technology, eight of which are extensions of US

companies.



Now, however, Sacke has high hopes that the market in Europe could take

off.



The largest industrial insurer in Germany, Gerling Konzern, has just

bought One Touch keypads for a 19 site BTV network and used the

technology to train 2,000 sales agents. ’Markets move because of

reference customers in vertical markets and Gerling is a very respected

firm. I expect we will have one or two reference customers in the UK as

a result,’ says Sacke.



With ’at least two or three’ organisations in the UK about to sign up,

Sacke is keen to express the very real advantages of IDL. ’It enables

you to deliver more content to less people in less time.’ He says the

technology can also be used for competitive advantage. ’In the

automotive and financial industries, for example, salespeople need

certification before they can sell certain products and IDL technology

enables them to be trained quickly and effectively.’



Hugh Smiley, managing director of production company Visage which

specialises in BTV programming, is a fan of IDL. ’There are real cost

benefits to IDL, such as reduced downtime and savings on travel and

accommodation.



There are also training benefits because you can deliver training in

bite-size chunks over a period of time, which is much more effective,’

says Smiley. ’We now have two clients that have signed on the dotted

line for IDL, and a third that is nearing that.’



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