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Online Lingerie Show Video Is No Secret

Technology: Two million viewers logged on to Victoria's Secret's live Webcast, enabled by a multi-casting protocol.

May 19, 2000|JOSEPH MENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An estimated 2 million people logged on to a Victoria's Secret modeling Webcast live from Cannes on Thursday in one of the largest tests of the ability of advancing technology to handle massive, real-time video over the Internet.

The first such Webcast by the lingerie company, promoted heavily during the January 1999 Super Bowl, drew about 1.5 million viewers, then a record, but left most unable to see anything.

The company said it didn't have firm figures on Thursday but believed most were able to view the video live or within a short time.

"Technically, it was great," said Tim Plzak, director of advanced technologies at Intimate Brands, parent company to Victoria's Secret.

While likely attracting more gawkers than buyers, the Webcast was significant because it reached so many users.

Working with Yahoo Inc.'s Webcasting division, formerly Broadcast.com, Victoria's Secret persuaded America Online and more than 70 other Internet service providers to use an emerging technology that allows a large stream of data, in this case video, to travel further along the Internet's pipes before individuals tap in.

Only about 15% of Net service providers have adopted the multi-casting protocol, which was developed with Cisco and other manufacturers of routing equipment.

The fashion show's success will spur other Internet infrastructure companies to adopt the approach and more companies to consider mass events, industry experts said.

Thursday's show relied on four Sun Microsystems Web servers and other technology from IBM, Akamai and lesser-known companies.

While many viewers with conventional dial-up modems were blocked out Thursday, others with broadband access mostly got what they were looking for.

The Webcast was a marked improvement over last year's show and other events, such as the NetAid benefit concert, that have left many would-be watchers frustrated.

Last year, Victoria's Secret didn't have enough server capacity or bandwidth, and it hadn't worked hard enough to get major Internet service providers to set aside enough of their pipes. As a result, many people couldn't access the Web site.

But mass viewing of live video over the Internet still has a long way to go. Even with a broadband connection and a picture that was 2 1/2 inches by 2 inches, the image was far from crisp. The movements of models such as Tyra Banks and Stephanie Seymour could be jerky, and the overall effect was like watching a small, blurry TV screen.

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