After 25 Years of Streaming, the World Can’t Live Without It

Glaser believed it was time for a commercial service. When he launched his on April 25, 1995, the first customers were ABC News and NPR; you could listen to news headlines or Morning Edition. It wasn’t the user-friendliest—you had to download his Real Audio app to your desktop and then hope it made a successful connection to the browser. At that point, it worked only on demand. But in September 1995, Progressive Networks began live streaming. Its first real-time broadcast was the audio of a major league baseball game—the Seattle Mariners versus the New York Yankees. (The Mariners won.The losing pitcher was Mariano Rivera, then a starter.) The few who listened from the beginning had to reboot around the seventh inning, as the buffers filled up after two and a half hours or so. By the end of that year, thousands of developers were using Real.

Other companies began streaming video before Glaser’s, which introduced RealVideo in 1997. The internet at that point wasn’t robust enough to handle high-quality video, but those in the know understood that it was just a matter of time. “It was clear to me that this was going to be the way that everything is going to be delivered,” says Glaser, who gave a speech around then titled “The Internet as the Next Mass Medium.” That same year, Glaser had a conversation with an entrepreneur named Reed Hastings, who told him of his long-range plan to build a business by shipping physical DVDs to people, and then shift to streaming when the infrastructure could support it. That worked out well. Today, our strong internet supports not only entertainment but social programming from YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and others.

I can’t imagine sheltering in place without streaming. Take the online event last weekend to commemorate composer Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday. Since it couldn’t take place in an actual theatre, it was hastily packaged as an internet spectacle, captured from the chic quarantine quarters of Broadway’s top crooners. Technical difficulties delayed the start for almost an hour, reminiscent of the choppy online launch of the Wax cult movie some decades ago. But once it got going, it had an intrepid sort of magic, merging consummate professionalism with feisty DIY. The highlight was a boozy performance of the Sondheim classic “The Ladies Who Lunch,” rendered in Zoom-like fuzziness from the respective living rooms of three awesome divas, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, and a gloriously insouciant Meryl Streep. Yes, the show was thrown together, but in another sense it was very long in the making. Twenty-five years long.

One day we will hug again. Until then, see you in stream-land.

Time Travel

In April 2003, Apple introduced the iTunes Store. After the keynote presentation, I went backstage to talk to CEO Steve Jobs. “The Internet is perfect for the delivery of music,” he told me. “It’s like it was built for the delivery of music. Napster proved that. So why wouldn’t all the music be delivered that way?”

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