Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).
When it comes to multimedia and kids, interactivity is king. Keeping your interactors fully immersed in your offerings is the end goal of most products out there. Increasingly, Web sites are using a new best friend to help them do this: streamed audio and video.
It used to be that visitors to a site would have to spend a considerable amount of time downloading audio and video clips-a pain because of gigantic file sizes, file crashes and looooong transfer times. But with streaming, sounds and images arrive on the user’s desktop almost immediately. Streaming does this by compressing data-rich content and getting rid of the unnecessary bits, in much the same way as CDs leave out the inaudible highs and lows.
This streaming technology fits hand in glove with broadcast entertainment content-music, film, TV and sports-and hence, these are the types of sites that most often use it. The great thing about it is that it works to enhance the viewing experience for the user. Essentially, there are three key advantages to its use: flexibility, sampling and compelling content.
Streamed content is great because it allows you to do repeated file transfers with ease, and it gives you the flexibility to jump around to see and hear what you want. (Content providers are already talking about video on demand, but that won’t happen for some time.)
At a site like Streamland (www.streamland.com), you have access to over 100 full-length music videos, simply by picking and choosing. Streamland has one of the best-looking interfaces out there for this type of content, with plenty of selection, high turnover (10 new videos every Wednesday) and an excellent variety of music types. It’s no wonder corporate sponsors are taking a good look at the medium (it’s virtually impossible to miss the big Levi’s logo when you first arrive).
Because the technology is still in its infancy (and a lot of home-based computers are still in the dark ages), streamed content often appears choppy, with picture resolution that is OK at best. Sampling makes a lot of sense because movies are hardly a pleasure to sit and watch for very long (although streamed audio isn’t nearly as bad as video).
Go to a site like www.timecast.com, and you find short videos for numerous entertainment, sports and music providers. One interesting link was for the Children’s Television Workshop. You can watch the quick video sample for Sesame Street, click the link and you’re off to the site.
In the case of music, there are hundreds of sites where album samples are abundant, most often with hopes of visitors spending a little money to buy what they’ve just heard. NetRadio (www.netradio.net) is one good example of this, with both Liquid Audio and e-mod software taking sampling a step further by letting you purchase and transfer digital-quality music direct to your computer, where you can then customize your own CDs. That is cool.
There is something to be said about being able to watch movies (regardless of the length) on your computer (if only because we couldn’t in the past).
For young people, it’s exciting to be able to see their favorite stars in action in real time. Cybercasts take place on both huge levels (check out www.rocktropolis.com) and on a smaller level, such as www.88hiphop.com (see ‘The Cyber Space’ in KidScreen’s March 1998 issue, page 58), and give viewers worldwide a chance to see things happening on the other side of the globe they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
From a corporate perspective, one show on 88hiphop is being brought to viewers by Ride, the new film from Dimension Films. The cybercast actually takes a break to air a 30-second commercial for the film. Brilliant. It’s easy to see how you could use the technology to release a trailer for a movie, before the release date, on teen-targeted sites (for example, the area on AOL for Teen People magazine) and generate some excitement.
Streamed content is great, but it still has a long way to go. Users still get errors, heavy network traffic causes delays and finding the exact content you want is still a bit of a challenge. As far as kid-oriented material, the quality and content provided by a good CD-ROM is still miles ahead of anything streamed content has to offer. The important thing to remember, however, is that it’s not going to be like this forever.