December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Ought to be in pictures?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what might a moving picture be worth? Convinced the answer is bigger sales, Internet retailers have been turning to streaming video. Offering sites a dynamic and interactive new way to communicate with their customers, streaming video represents an appealing way for merchants to add a new dimension to their online ambience.

But before e-retailers rush headfirst to jazz up their sites, they ought to consider carefully how those images are being received on the other end. The reality is that small bandwidth and slow connection speeds often reduce videos to jerky, murky images.

According to a new report by Jupiter Communications, streaming video is used on more than 60% of major, consumer-oriented Web sites. But the research firm advised online companies to avoid the “temptation” of directly repurposing offline content, since broadband cannot yet support high-quality transmission. Instead, the firm suggested using video in short clips and integrating them into their sites.

Overall, streaming video may not be ready for prime time. “Streaming video is still in the domain of the innovators and early adopters,” says Geoffrey Bock, senior consultant at the Patricia Seybold Group, an e-retail consulting firm based in Boston. “Video is OK in small doses, but it’s not up to the quality you’d expect from a television broadcast.”

Bock advises Web merchants to press cable operators and telephone companies to speed up the development of technology that will allow better transmission of streaming video. “They ought to make their needs known,” he says. Over the next 18 to 24 months, he expects to see a number of national retailers rolling out interactive applications for their customers to use, and he welcomes the rapid growth of streaming audio as a good sign for video as well.

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