This column appeared Dec. 16, 2000, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.
By J.D. Lasica
Is broadband news ready for prime time? Not entirely, but it’s getting there fast.
Multimedia journalists who assembled recently at CNET in San Francisco for a panel discussion on broadband seemed to collectively say: We’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go, but today — right now — many online content sites are serving up a richer, more satisfying news experience for consumers.
Michael Silberman, executive editor of MSNBC.com, observed that on election night, fully 20 percent of the site’s 5.5 million visitors went to a video page to watch a video stream of election coverage, such as concession and acceptance speeches from around the country. That’s more than a million people who chose the Web over watching the coverage on their television sets. “That, to me, is a real sign that broadband has arrived,” he said.
“At MSNBC we think about broadband in two ways: as rich content, as video, as animation, about how we can combine those elements into a single experience,” Silberman said. “And we think about it as an always-on connection, making it much more of an Internet appliance, letting you have the option of having a kick-back, more passive entertainment experience.”
It’s those technical limitations that have been broadband’s bane from day one. Today the vast majority of online users — 91 percent — have slow dial-up connections. The wired elite, who rely mostly on high-speed, fat-pipe cable modems and DSL phone connections, comprise 17 million office workers, 12 million college students and 9.3 million home users. By 2003, according to industry estimates, 71 percent of U.S. businesses and 33 percent of households will have broadband connections. Wired homes will have bits and bytes streaming not just into their PCs but into set-top boxes, Internet appliances, smart TVs, stereos and other devices.