Flash alternative vendor sees bright future for Silverlight

Adobe should expect Microsoft's rich-media software to be "ubiquitous," says Wowza CEO

Microsoft's Silverlight rich-media player, which the software vendor has been touting heavily since last spring, has yet to win many customers away from Adobe Systems's market-leading Flash technology since it was released in September.

But the CEO of a third vendor whose streaming video server software competes with both Flash and Silverlight said he expects Microsoft's product to become broadly popular by as early as next fall.

"Adobe has to assume that Silverlight is going to become ubiquitous," said David Stubenvoll, who heads Wowza Media Systems. "What's the time frame for that? I'd say nine to 18 months."

Wowza's Media Server Pro software is a less-expensive alternative to Adobe's Flash Media Server that also supports all of the primary features in FMS, said Stubenvoll, who is a former Adobe executive.

Earlier this month, Adobe announced an upgraded version of Flash Media Server that it said can handle about five times the number of video streams and the amount of bandwidth as the previous release could. But Adobe also sharply reduced the cost of the software, which is scheduled to ship next month. A high-end "interactive server" edition now starts at US$4,500, and Adobe added an entry-level package that costs US$995 and is designed to be deployed on a single server.

Wowza is responding by cutting the price of Media Server Pro from US$5,000 to US$995. It also plans to match the new features in Flash Media Server 3, such as support for higher-quality H.264 video and Adobe's digital rights management technology, "shortly" after the FMS update becomes available, Stubenvoll said.

Media Pro Server, which was released last February, is currently being used by about 3,800 companies, according to Stubenvoll. He said that a "healthy, healthy" number of those users -- though less than 1,000 -- have actually purchased the software thus far.

Stubenvoll noted that most of the paying customers are in Europe. "We're like the David Hasselhoff of Web video," he said, referring to the enduring popularity of the Knight Rider and Baywatch actor and singer in European countries.

Although Stubenvoll claimed that Wowza's software tops Flash Media Server in areas such as ease of programming and the security of its content protection technology, he acknowledged that most of his company's customers are simply seeking a less costly way of streaming their Flash content.

On Monday, after Adobe announced the financial results for the fourth quarter of its 2007 fiscal year, CEO Shantanu Narayen claimed during a conference call that 76% of the broadcasters that stream video on the Web use Flash technology. Sales of Adobe's video products, including the existing version of Flash Media Server, were up 37% year over year in Q4, said Narayen, who became Adobe's top executive on Dec. 1.

Despite Adobe's latest results, Stubenvoll, in line with his prediction that Silverlight will soon take off with users, said Wowza plans to add support for Microsoft's media delivery format to Media Pro Server sometime next year. The upstart company also will build in support for Java Platform Micro Edition, which is the most popular video format on mobile phones.

As an independent media server vendor, "it makes sense for us support as many codecs and clients as possible," Stubenvoll said.

In addition, Wowza plans to launch its software on Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloudhosted application platform, or EC2, by the middle of next year, according to Stubenvoll.

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