But it seemed like more than just a sign of the times when Microsoft failed to field a booth at the Streaming Media West conference here this week--especially since the software big-leaguer has been relentlessly its latest, greatest (and as yet unreleased) media technology, Corona.
After "long and hard" discussions, Microsoft decided in recent weeks that it did not have the funds to exhibit this year, according to Carl Pugh, president of Internet Events for Penton Media, producer of the Streaming Media West and Internet World joint conference. "Also, they did acknowledge that timing of new product releases played a role in the decision."
But Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, which has participated in Internet World since 1993, said the timing of the conference itself was behind its decision.
"We evaluate our participation in every trade show on a case-by-case basis," said Michael Aldridge, lead product manager of the Windows Digital Media Division. "This was the first time (Streaming Media West) was in April, and that competed with our traditional focus on (the National Association of Broadcasters conference) earlier in the month so we chose not to attend. Looking ahead, we'll participate in Streaming Media Japan, and we're excited about our presence at that show."
Several Microsoft representatives are participating in panels throughout the Streaming Media West conference.
At NAB, Microsoft heralded Corona, a next-generation video-compression technology expected to vastly improve on the company's Windows Media Player--and one it hopes will be the standard for delivering media over PCs, set-top boxes, DVD players and personal video recorders.
Microsoft garnered early support for the technology from high-end authoring tool companies such as Adobe Systems, Avid Technology and Thomson Grass Valley Group. But Microsoft has offered fuzzy launch dates for Corona, saying it will be available sometime later this year.
Meanwhile, rival RealNetworks, which is a "Platinum Sponsor" of Streaming Media West this year,a new version of its media player, RealVideo 9, that it says improves video quality delivered on the Internet by about a third.
Analysts say Corona's delay puts Microsoft at a disadvantage in the media player wars.
"By the time Corona hits the street, RealNetworks will be far along with the development of its next-generation media player, like RealVideo 10," said Steve Vonder Haar, an analyst at Interactive Media Strategies, a research and consulting firm. "Essentially, Microsoft is sitting out a round in the development wars."
Vonder Haar said that a Microsoft no-show at Streaming Media West could likely indicate animosity toward show producers that hold a sweetheart relationship with RealNetworks, a pioneer in streaming media. RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser is giving a keynote speech Wednesday evening.
During the show's heyday in previous years, Microsoft could not ignore its need to exhibit a viable streaming media alternative to RealNetworks. But as attendance slipped for the fall edition of the event last season, the show exhibited less clout in the industry, Vonder Haar said.
"The Streaming Media show has long been a marketing bonanza for RealNetworks," he said. "By pulling out, Microsoft removes some of the luster for a show that's always been a showcase for a chief rival."