Sites prepare for Clinton video

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

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
Online media companies, many of which posted the Starr report last week, now are grappling with new complications in the wake of the House Judiciary Committee's decision to release the president's videotaped grand jury testimony today.

News organizations including CNN Interactive, MSNBC, and ABCNews.com (a CNET News.com partner) are planning to offer the video online simultaneously with its release 6 a.m. PT. So is content and cable Internet access provider @Home.

The New York Times, which posted the Starr report, Friday declined to say whether it would post the video or other evidence released.

Some sites also may post the additional 2,800 pages of supporting evidence that the House Judiciary Committee voted this morning to release along with the video.

Clinton is accused of perjuring himself regarding his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and of obstructing justice and abusing the power of his office to thwart independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation into it. Clinton has vigorously denied the charges.

While many sites, including News.com, posted either part or all of Starr's 445-page report, they face different issues when it comes to posting the video.

When it came to posting the text for the Starr report, they faced a glut of traffic. ABCNews.com, for example, reported increases of more than 180 percent in both individual visitors and page turns. The House of Representatives' own site was rendered inaccessible for much of the day.

But the multimedia portion of Starr's case against the president will pose other problems: the practical difficulty of disseminating such a large file to a large number of people, and the editorial issue that a video poses in that it presents potentially sexually explicit material in a medium that is more difficult to edit.

In addition, it is unclear whether the video will be as popular as the printed statement, which naturally lent itself to the Net's format.

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

MSNBC will make the four-hour video available to as many as 7,000 people at a time, Pomerantz said. 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.

ABCNews.com and CNN declined to state how many concurrent users they would be able to accommodate.

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 Real Networks' broadcast division to serve the on-demand version.

Pomerantz said MSNBC would be adding extra bandwidth capacity and extra servers. "If there's a problem, it's not going to be on our end, but on the bandwidth capacity of the Internet itself," she said.

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 video as a format. 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, for example, will delay by several seconds the satellite feed to edit out material the company feels would be inappropriate for "younger audiences." MSNBC will omit 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."