In the not-too-distant past, the Internet was, for many people, a thing of clunky Web sites, awkward search engines and slow loading times.
But more recently, ongoing development of Internet technology has provided increasingly faster connections. In a report by Pew Internet Research, for example, it's estimated that 84 million Americans have broadband Internet access in their homes. And, just as the speed at which consumers receive online material has changed, so have expectations of what the Internet can offer.
Streaming video may be the most significant feature that consumers now expect from their high-speed Internet connections. With faster downloading times and the development of sophisticated online media players, more Americans are getting their news and entertainment via streaming online videos.
"In today's fast-paced environment, consumers want to be able to access entertainment any time," said Greg Demetriades, chairman and chief executive officer of WhiteBlox, a Houston-based provider of Internet broadcasting technology. "Providing on-demand Internet broadcasts gives audiences the freedom to tailor their viewing habits to their own schedules."
Consumers have also come to expect a greater extent of online interaction with other users. Bearing this in mind, some companies have developed technology that plays streaming video and simultaneously incorporates interactive features that allow consumers to participate with whatever content they're viewing.
WhiteBlox's technology, for instance, consists of several customizable features, or "building blox" as the company calls them, with which Web content providers can build media players that integrate chat rooms, surveys and polls.
This combination of video and viewer interactivity is one of the greatest benefits of the broadband boom, Demetriades says.
"As customer demand for online entertainment increases, more and more we are seeing the movement of videos, television and music to the Internet. This trend and the added functionality available to consumers online are quickly pushing the Internet to become the dominant source of entertainment."