President Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony about his affair with Monica Lewinsky will make its way onto the Internet at the same time as it hits television, 6 a.m. PT Monday (2pm GMT), making for possible gridlock on news Web sites.
But on Friday, as providers of Internet multimedia prepared for a large-scale Internet video broadcast, they foresaw few problems in delivering the testimony to Internet viewers.
"For us, this will be almost like a normal day in the office," said Henry Heflich, chief technology officer of Broadcast.com, which will be hosting the video for many news sites. General-news Web sites such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and ABC News will air the four hours of testimony as soon as it becomes available to the media. Other general- and special-interest Internet hubs, including ZDTV.com, are expected to Webcast the video as well. They will all be using a technology known as streaming video, which in effect broadcasts video or audio over the Internet.
The Clinton Webcast is expected to raise awareness of streaming technology, which is a vast improvement over the traditional way of distributing Internet media, in which users had to download a large file before viewing it.
Most of the sites that carry the testimony will broadcast the video in a continuous loop for as long as viewers want to watch. They will also offer archives of the testimony divided into several sections, which can be viewed on demand. To prepare for the expected onslaught of users today, news sites are taking a variety of precautions, from buying more bandwidth capacity from their service providers to retaining the services of such streaming companies as Real Broadcast Network and Broadcast.com.
CNN's Web site, for example, will carry video streams from two providers, Broadcast.com and InterVU. Real Broadcast Network, the division of RealNetworks that hosts streaming media for third parties, will host the video for a separate CNN Internet channel, available only over RealNetworks' RealPlayer software.
RealNetworks, whose RealMedia format is the streaming-media market leader, is also hosting the Clinton testimony for the Web sites of Associated Press, CBS, CNN, Fox, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, ABC and FedNet. "It's hard to predict what will happen Monday," said Mark Hall, executive producer in RealNetworks' media publishing group. "We have never seen an event like this on the Internet ... RealNetworks alone can't prepare for this -- the entire Internet is preparing for it." He said Real Broadcast Network alone can sustain 50,000 concurrent media streams.
Broadcast.com, which hosts a variety of live and archived programming, including many radio stations, is expecting little difficulty handling demand for the video. "Our main business is streaming multimedia video and audio traffic," said Heflich. "Every day we have hundreds of servers online streaming traffic to hundreds of thousands of users simultaneously."
Streaming media uses far more bandwidth than text documents of the sort that make up Kenneth Starr's Clinton report, released on the Internet last week. But observers said fewer people have access to streaming-media players or PCs powerful enough to play video clips -- reducing the potential audience for the Clinton testimony video.
Broadcast.com representatives said they will monitor the demands on their video servers Monday and simply allocate more server power to streaming the Clinton testimony as it is needed. Still, video is streamed in a continuous flow of information packets, unlike most Internet data, which take the form of intermittent packets. That means Internet bottlenecks could quickly become clogged. For example, users might not be able to access a site, or might see a degradation in the quality of the video they're watching. "This will be a test of the scalability of streaming media," said analyst Ron Rappaport with Zona Research. "If anything, I would argue that Kenneth Starr and Monica Lewinsky have created the ultimate beta test with this."
Several companies, including Broadcast.com, are also broadcasting the video in a format called IP Multicast, which drastically reduces the bandwidth needs for streamed media.
But few backbones, including UUNET, and Internet service providers, including Microsoft's Microsoft Network, have outfitted their infrastructure to handle IP Multicast, so the next-generation technology is expected to make up only a small part of overall streaming traffic when it starts.