'Net braces for Starr report -- on video

Forget the Starr report. The real challenge for the Internet could happen with the release of streaming video of President Clinton's grand jury testimony. Online news organisations are rushing to figure out their plans for serving up the videostream. In addition to the sheer size of the file, one issue is how to maintain a user's link for up to four hours. The Internet was not designed for such stateful connections.

Forget the Starr report. The real challenge for the Internet could happen with the release of streaming video of President Clinton's grand jury testimony.

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to make public four hours of his testimony. House staffers met with media executives to determine how to disseminate the tape and its accompanying documents on the Internet, according to Sharon Hammersla, computer systems coordinator for the US House of Representatives.

Online news organisations are rushing to figure out their plans for serving up the videostream. The 'Net has not yet seen this kind of anticipated demand for an audio and videostream, according to Katherine Dillon, vice president of ABCNews.com in New York. In contrast to last week's report, which consisted of roughly 450Kb of text, the videotape could translate into many megabytes of data.

In addition to the sheer size of the file, one issue is how to maintain a user's link for up to four hours. The Internet was not designed for such stateful connections.

Dillon says ABCnews.com is in talks with video player creator RealNetworks to increase the companies' current hosting agreement. "We plan to broadcast the tape live as soon as it is made available," she says.

However, she says editing will have to be done to bleep out inappropriate language.

She said she is also trying to increase her server capacity. "We have a T-3, but now we have to figure out how to load-balance the expected traffic," she says. "We're working out a plan with RealNetworks right now."

In London, the BBC's online venture is also gearing up. BBC Online has capacity for 20,000 concurrent videostreams, says marketing editor Keith Roberts. The BBC has some experience with this sort of massive demand.

Last August, the still nascent BBC Web effort was hard hit by mourners seeking footage of Princess Diana. Although the site did not crash, it did slow down, Roberts says.

The BBC hosts its own RealPlayer video and audio servers separate from the main site's Web servers. "That way, if there is enormous pressure for video and audio, the Web servers for the site will not be affected," he said.

Mindy McAdams, a Web strategist for the American Press Institute in Reston, Va., says media outlets should do more than simply serve up the feed. They should break the videotape into segments and label them clearly so users can go directly to the parts they are interested in.

McAdams said one saving grace for media outlets is that not all of the estimated 20 million 'Net users that clamored for the Starr report have the video and audio gear installed on their computers to access the report.

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