Stephen Imbeau

When I was a kid, the word “stream” conjured images of cool, mountain water moving at my feet as I walked through it or along its bank, often going down stream, and fishing.

My father was an athletic, outdoors man; unfortunately, I was not, much to his frustration. He could never understand that I would rather be reading a book than out swimming or fishing his favorite stream looking for trout pools or rapids.

And even now, I am not much of a fisherman, to my sons’ dismay. Oh, well. … But I do love to bird and deer hunt.

Nowadays we stream by computer, and as an old computer programmer, I love the modern streaming. Streaming is computer transmission of large data sets directly to your computer or television screen without prior storage via the internet.

The internet or World Wide Web, was first developed for the US Navy submarine force, and soon after it was picked up by other U.S. military and U.S. universities, but it was not invented by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Of course, now the internet is in common, worldwide use. Streamed media can thus be viewed immediately, as it is received by your media player, which today includes handheld smart phones.

Down Streaming speeds and clarity are dependent on the physics of your media player: reception speeds, bandwidth, storage capacity and internal computer/chip speeds, as the media is “buffered” before appearing on your screen. Amazingly, the modern smart phone handles all of this quite well with smooth reception and display.

Streaming media now includes moving picture media of all types, including events, shorts, films and TV shows; music; and computer gaming.

YouTube might be the best-known short-subject site. It was founded in 2005 by three former employees of the secure internet payment service Pay Pal (computer designers and computer scientists), motivated by developing a site for better online dating, and when dating video interest flattened, for current news events. Most of YouTube is free, supported by advertising, but some is by subscription or pay-to-play. The subscription services enable running commentaries and uploads (you put your content video “on” YouTube).

Early YouTube use exploded with the help of Nike ads and NBC Television Saturday Night Live episodes. Google purchased the site about two years after its start for an astonishing 1.65 billion U.S. dollars (in Google stock, so no cash outlay for Google); the site was founded with an investment of approximately $20 million for roughly half the shares by Sequoia Capital and Artis Capital Management, thus earning approximately 40 times return in only two years, plus Google stock itself is still appreciating.

Google still owns and manages the site. Over the years Google has added sports, music, video gaming, film trailers and children’s programing. A staggering 1 billion YouTube hours are now watched worldwide per day, and 500 hours of new content are added each minute.

Netflix is a leading provider of streaming television shows and films, including now many of their own production. Starting in 1997 Netflix was a DVD rental business, turning to streaming as the modern technology was enabled and became popular, since about 2010. In 2012 Netflix produced its first TV series, “Lillyhammer.”

The company struggled in the year 2000, almost going bankrupt, but recovered with the advent of internet streaming and its own movie and TV series production. Netflix now has more than 216 of its own films or TV programs and more than 160 million subscribers worldwide, in most countries except China (in flux with new, local Chinese partners).

Despite a paucity of profit before 2013, Netflix stock has soared since 2013. Its revenue has grown to more than $16 billion per year.

Other major video streaming sites include Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, PlayStation, Sling Orange, HBO, Crackle and Twitch. Total corporate video streaming revenues are now at about $30 billion per year.

The Swedish company Spotify, a music platform, was founded in 2006 and launched commercially in 2008. Spotify now has more than 200 million users, and more than 100 million of them pay a monthly fee.

Most of Spotify expenses are for music rights, and now, after artist complaints, they are working on some direct payment to artists as well. Spotify has grown by aggressive and clever advertising and acquisition, so that it and Apple are fierce competitors.

Spotify is now valued at more than $30 billion. Apple Music was founded in 2015 and has shown rapid growth to approximately 100 million users, but it was built on the back of iPad and iTunes, older Apple music platforms. Steve Jobs prevented subscriptions for the older music platforms, since he wanted Apple to sell machines, not music.

In order to expand the music sales beyond the older iTunes store, Apple Music eventually increased royalties to musicians and rights holders, and of course it had to then charge a monthly subscription fee. At least in the United States, Apple Music now surpasses Spotify revenues. Apple Music has moved into video downloads, expanded to the iCloud and begun some original video production.

Computer gaming is a huge part of modern internet streaming. Early video games are now considered archaic, originally designed for arcade machines and early home computers. “Pong” (1972), “Space Invaders” (1978) and “Pac-Man” (1980) are the most famous of the early games.

Video games are now interactive, played on laptop computers or smart phones with game controllers or joysticks, or even holographic goggles; the goggles allow the gamer to actually (well, in virtual reality) move within the game field.

Approximately one-third of modern gamers are older than 50, and they spend roughly four hours per day gaming. Obviously, computer gaming can be addictive. Some adults, not just kids, stay up all night to game around the world. Total game revenue is now approximately $90 billion per year.

Most modern games have sophisticated graphics representing humans in action and are violent, part of our current gun violence debate in the United States. The German gaming trade fairs attract an estimated 400,000 people each year, and our U.S. national museums now have video gaming exhibits.

Leading video games include Minecraft, Tetris, Wii Sports, Grand Theft Auto and Battlegrounds. But World of Warcraft from Blizzard Entertainment (original company founded in 1991 with a meager $30,000 dollar investment) dwarfs them all. Warcraft was created first in 1994 and has had multiple updates and spin offs, now boasting more than 100 million users. Most users pay for original purchase, but also the game makes money from advertising, selling money to players for gold, cheat codes and upgrades to characters.

Blizzard now is owned by Activision. Its games have approximately 300 million users worldwide. Roughly 12 million Warcraft users pay a monthly fee of $15.00 for “quality” service and game “extras.” Total yearly worldwide revenue from this one game is now at an estimate $10 billion.

Security can be a problem with down streaming from malicious miscreants who steal your personal data, your subscriptions or send you embedded or cloaked computer viruses.

Want to internet stream in confident security? Call Blue Fish in Florence. It is the best.

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Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife, Shirley, have been in Florence for more than 30 years and raised their three children here. He and Dr. Joseph Moyer started the Allergy Center about 21 years ago, and it is now one of the largest in South Carolina. Contact him at citizencolumnist@florencenews.com.

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