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Clinton video hits the Web

Net media firms that posted the Starr report grapple with new issues surrounding posting the president's videotaped grand jury testimony.

President Clinton's videotaped testimony about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky hit the Internet today, adding to the piles of digital material that sparked the online fever for full disclosure about the scandal.

Many of the Net sites that posted independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report on September 11 are grappling with new complications arising from the House Judiciary Committee's decision to release the president's videotaped grand jury testimony.

The independent counsel has accused Clinton of perjuring himself in testimony regarding his affair with Lewinsky and of abusing the power of his office to thwart the investigation into his activities. Clinton has vigorously denied that he obstructed justice or encouraged others to lie under oath.

While many parts of the Internet, including the official House site, faced a glut of traffic when they first rushed to post either part or all of Starr's 445-page report, they face different issues with the multimedia portion of Starr's case.

From a technical standpoint, sites must deal with the practical difficulty of disseminating such a large file to a vast number of people. Even more complicated are the editorial questions posed by a video that includes sexually explicit descriptions.

Keynote Systems said response times were lagging today, but that sites hosting the video were no more bogged down than they were when the text report was released.

For now, most sites seem to be holding up under the pressure.

News organizations including CNN Interactive, MSNBC, and ABCNews.com (a CNET News.com partner) posted the video soon after it was released at 6 a.m. PT and have not crashed. The New York Times streamed the four-hour video, and WashingtonPost.com also features clips.

Portals Yahoo, Infoseek, Excite, America Online, and content and cable Internet access provider @Home also are running the video, as they did the report and the White House's rebuttals to the charges.

"What's hard about this is that this file is so much more dense than the Starr report," said Loren Pomerantz, a spokesperson for MSNBC. About 25 percent of home-based Web users who viewed the Starr report after it was posted accessed it from MSNBC online, according to NetRatings.

Some sites, such as the Los Angeles Times, have posted many of the 2,800 pages of additional evidence that the House Judiciary Committee voted Friday to release along with the video.

And Amazon.com started taking home video orders for the tape on Saturday. The company is charging $9.95 for the videotape, which already has become a top seller.

However, Web sites are posting the video for free.

MSNBC is making the video available to up to 9,000 people at a time. MSNBC and the other sites contacted said the video would be accessible off separate servers, so a deluge of viewers won't affect the capacity of the regular news sites.

For its part, CNN will enlist the help of two companies--InterVU and Broadcast.com--to serve both the on-demand and "live" versions of the video feed. CNN is also working with RealNetworks' broadcast division to serve the on-demand version.

"We're handling it just fine," said CNN spokesman Kerrin Roberts.

More than 19,350 simultaneous users were accessing CNN's live and on-demand video as of 8 a.m. PT. The first broadcast of the video was accessed more than 300,000 times, the company said. The traffic already has broken CNN's past records for video clips. Broadcast.com also said it set a record for traffic on its site today.

The level of strain on the Net's pipelines is impossible to predict with any certainty.

ABCNews.com reported increases of more than 180 percent in both individual visitors and page turns since the Starr report was posted. Most other sites broke their traffic records from August 17, the day Clinton testified via video. Even the House's own sites were rendered inaccessible for much of the day September 11.

But one Internet backbone provider scoffed at the idea that the network itself would buckle under the strain of the video demand. "I doubt it would have much of an effect," Sprint spokesperson Charles Fleckenstein said.

Both Pomerantz and Fleckenstein noted that the video's potential audience is much smaller than that of the Starr report's text because far fewer people are equipped with video software than with browsers capable of reading simple Web-formatted text.

In addition to bandwidth and server capacity issues, Internet news organizations also must deal with the nature of the video itself. While groups from the House to the New York Times printed the Starr report without editing its sexually explicit material, some are taking a more cautious approach to releasing similar material online in a video format.

MSNBC has delayed the satellite feed by several seconds to edit out material the company feels would be inappropriate for "younger audiences." MSNBC said it is omitting the audio portion of the feed during the discussion of that material.

The site will post an unedited transcript of the videotape, however, and will post the unedited videotape once it can be indexed and archived.

"You can opt to read through the transcript, and you can choose what portions you want to see. You can sort of self-edit it," Pomerantz said. "With the video, it's just coming at you and you can't stop it. It's just a different medium."

Still, many likely saw the full, unedited video via one of the television broadcasts.

"We had heavy traffic during the video and the traffic has increased in the two hours since the tape concluded," added another MSNBC spokeswoman, Debby Fry Wilson. "That tells me this was largely a television event because it was probably easier to see and hear. But upon that concluding, people are coming to the Net."