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Up Close and Personal

What does all this mean for the future of the broadband Web? For one thing, the services that will survive and flourish are likely to be those that don’t need massive audiences to be profitable. According to Jupiter, while 15 million U.S. households will have broadband Internet access by 2005, these households will still be far outnumbered by customers using dial-up modems to access the Internet. “Two-thirds of us will still be using dial-up in 2005,” says Laszlo.

The broadband Internet is, however, great for person-to-person file exchanges. You’ll likely see more ways to share information that takes advantage of broadband’s faster speeds-Napster-like sites that allow sharing of personal photo-graphs and videos, perhaps even allowing for on-site editing. Sportscapsule is one such service: it allows high school coaches and parents to upload their videos of local sporting events, and to edit them with appropriate prerecorded comments from TV football commentator John Madden. “For video to make sense on the Internet, it needs to be personal,” says Lawrence Rowen, vice president of marketing and sales at Sportscapsule. “Television can take care of the mass market. We’re servicing a market that may only include 30 people.”

It may not be the type of application that Hollywood moguls drool over, but you are also likely to see an evolution of personal communications on the broadband Web, from textual e-mail and instant text messaging to picture mail and video-enabled instant messaging. Successful broadband applications are almost certain to evolve toward this person-to-person sharing over the Internet rather than the downloading of mass-audience movies that are available elsewhere.

While a few years ago the Web seemed poised to threaten cable tele-vision, the technical and economic limi-tations of the medium are now much clearer, and the threat is correspondingly reduced. Though Miramax and other Hollywood studios might be exceptions, even large entertainment companies are developing more realistic expectations about broadband use. For example, in July 2000 Blockbuster announced an exclusive twenty-year deal with broadband service provider Enron Broadband Services to deliver movies over the Internet; last March, Blockbuster killed the deal.

“It’s finally sinking in that streaming video will never be as good as broadcast television,” says Cavallari. “But there will be many things for which it will be good enough.”

Good enough, and perhaps even better for the populist kind of communication and entertainment that makes up the best of broadband today. The limitations of the broadband Web have created a fertile ground for innovative forms of entertainment to flourish, whether they be three-minute animations that are too raw to find an audience in broadcast TV, or three-minute highlights from last week’s high school football game that can be shared with a proud grandmom a thousand miles away. And in the end, it may be exactly the limitations of broadband that will allow the Web to evolve in unpredictable and interesting ways we’ve only just begun to appreciate. 

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