Adobe upgrades Flash Media Server, slashes entry-level price

Video-friendly upgrade comes as competitors move on juicy market

Adobe Systems Inc. Monday announced a new, more video-friendly version of Flash Media Server that also introduces a less expensive single-server edition.

Flash Media Server 3, which is designed to help Web publishers deliver Flash applications and Flash-encoded video, can handle about five times the number of streams and amount of bandwidth as Version 2, according to the San Jose-based software company.

FMS 3 will come in an interactive server edition that costs US$4,500. That edition is comparable to FMS 2's original and edge-server package, which are designed for large publishers and content delivery networks (CDN) and list for a combined US$60,000, said Kevin Towes, Adobe's product manager for Flash Media Server.

But customers can also buy a license to deploy FMS 3 just on a single server -- an option not available with FMS 2 -- for US$995. That, he said, compares to FMS 2's professional edition, which costs US$4,500 and allows 150 to 2,500 simultaneous connections.

"The cost of deployment was too high, so we addressed that and also improved performance, so you can stream more video using less CPU," said Towes.

Everybody wants to get in on the act

Adobe claims that Flash is used to encode three quarters of the video on the Web today. For instance, YouTube videos are encoded and streamed to viewers using Flash.

But staying on top of this market requires effort. To drive adoption of its competing Expression publishing platform, Microsoft Corp. is offering much of the software at prices that are lower than those of the Adobe equivalents -- or, in the case of Expression Media Encoder, for free. Expression Media Encoder offers many of the same features as FMS.

And Microsoft isn't Adobe's only competitor in this market. Other vendors with cheaper alternatives include Wowza Media Systems, which offers server software that also streams Flash content and video.

During Adobe's Max user conference earlier this fall, the company's then-CEO, Bruce Chizen, said that Flash's current market share "is a clear indication that our pricing is competitive now."

But the company also said it would be wiling to cut prices if it looks like enough customers might defect,.

"If the cost of Flash Media Server comes in the way of Flash adoption, we will adjust that," said Shantanu Narayen, who was Adobe's president at the time. Narayen took over as CEO on December 1 after Chizen's resignation in November.

FMS 3, which will be available in January, improves upon FMS 2's video quality and compression by using the H.264/MPEG-4 standard.

"It takes us closer to HD," Towes said.

FMS 3 also adds the ability for music and other audio to be compressed with the AAC format used by Apple's iTunes software.

When deployed in tandem with its in-beta Adobe Media Player, FMS 3 also adds advertiser-friendly features, such as the ability to track and measure up to 30 different user behaviors, and digital rights management technology that can allow publishers to charge for access or ensure that ads be played before, during and after a video, Towes said.

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Eric Lai

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