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January 30, 2003
It's friendlier than e-mail. It's a virtual bargain. And it's catching on asan effective way of communicating in-house with employees from Boston toBeijing. The technology, called IP/TV, allows employers to use company intranetsto send live video to employees.

    "IP/TV combines the advantages of television and a computernetwork," saysGerry Kaufhold, principal analyst for Converging Markets and Technologies atIn-Stat MDR, a Scottsdale, Arizona, market research and consulting firm. "Theability to connect to thousands of desktops simultaneously can change the waycommunication takes place. Employees are more receptive to video than to anothertext e-mail landing in their in-box."

    Not long ago, only the largest corporations could foot the bill for broadcastfacilities, satellites, and television networks. But the evolution of theInternet and video technology has made it possible for a broad range oforganizations to offer real-time speeches, training sessions, seminars,e-learning, and other services to employees.

    Here's how it works. Rather than rolling a television set into an office,employees switch on a media player, such as RealOne Player, Apple's QuickTime,or Microsoft's Windows Media Player, to view content at their desktop or laptop.Some firms also embed icons and links in e-mail to simplify the process. If anemployee isn't able to view a program at the scheduled time, he can usually tunein later by clicking on a link in a video archive. It's a formula that's helpingorganizations--such as Ford Motor, Wal-Mart, and Procter & Gamble--addenergy to internal communications.

    In the last two years, Chicago-based market research firm ACNielsen has usedthe technology for interactive Q&A sessions between executives andemployees, and to offer meetings and other events to more than 2,000 employeeslocated in 20 offices in the United States. The company provides two to threehours of IP/TV programming each month. Human resources has turned to it toconduct briefings and benefits meetings and to launch charity campaigns. Whileviewing a video at a PC, employees can type in questions anonymously and receiveimmediate responses. "The technology creates a sense of immediacy andspontaneity that can't be captured on pre-recorded video. It's a boon forcommunications," says John Moses, senior vice president of human resources.

    At Fidelity Investments, live video is now available on 17,000 corporatedesktops. Every month, the Boston-based financial services firm offers as manyas 60 live events and 120 rebroadcasts over its intranet. These includeexecutive-management addresses, training sessions, and departmental meetings.Because the system works over a PC, presenters can interact with the audience inreal time and Fidelity can acquire demographic data about viewers.

Bobby Lie, Fidelity's senior vice president of telecommunications, describesIP/TV as an "inexpensive way to reach a large and dispersed audience." Heestimates that the company spends about $400 per broadcast hour to use IP/TV,compared to tens of thousands of dollars--and in some cases even more--to flypeople to meetings.

    In-Stat MDR's Kaufhold says that small companies can put basic IP/TV tools inplace for a few thousand dollars--in some cases using existingvideoconferencing gear and technology that extends the data to an intranet.Professional technology can cost from $20,000 to six and seven figures. "It'stough to get people to read all the e-mail and FAQs," he says. "In most cases,video is far more user-friendly."

Workforce, February 2003, p. 15 -- Subscribe Now!