A Short History of Online Video, Part 1 – Before Youtube


August this year will mark 50 years since computer science visionary Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, or “Lick” as he was better known, penned, in an (D)ARPA installation, a series of memos that changed the world.

Lick envisioned a global interconnected computer network through which everyone could access data and programs from anywhere. This isn’t only the first recorded vision for what would later become the Internet, it’s also the first recorded description of computers as not only calculating machines, but as joyful tools of expression, inspiring creativity, and opening a gateway to a new age of globally accessible information.

Online Video – the early years

In 1990 Sir Tim Berners Lee launched the World Wide Web when he created the first Web Server, Browser and Web pages. Three short years later, on June 24th, 1993 a performance by Severe Tire Damage became the first live gig on the Internet. Yes that’s right:

The Web’s 1st video was Streaming-Screaming-ROCK!


This was mainly done as a proof of concept “…that technology can be both loud and annoying“.

The story is that one of the bands members just happened to be Mark Weiser,  the chief scientist at Xerox PARC. It was his suggestion that a broadcast of the band’s performance  be used to test Internet based live streaming, a technology that was then undergoing development at the site.


The first ever streaming soundtracks on the internet were featured on Word Magazine, when they launched in 1995. Soon after RealNetworks arranged another one of the earliest Internet audio events – They broadcasted a baseball game between the Yankees and Seattle Mariners

1996-2000 – The Player Wars

Then in the beginning of 1996, Microsoft developed the ActiveMovie media player, that allowed streaming media and included a proprietary streaming format.

In 1997 RealPlayer released their own streaming application.

Despite the technologies availability the predominant 56k dial-up connection speeds of the time made video delivery still too slow for the availability of  players to revolutionize the industry.

In 1999 Apple debuted its own streaming media format – Quicktime 4. It was later adopted on websites along with RealPlayer and Windows Media streaming formats.


The year 2000 sees the earliest form of use of online video for political purposes. JibJab’s choice to use animation for their satire was a stroke of genius. Not only was it a natural and time honored tradition to render satire in animation but also it meant that compromises could be made on the frame-rate, making download and playtimes acceptable even on the slow connections of the time:


The lack of a predominant format required users to download all the respective applications for streaming to their computer – an untidy and wasteful situation that was mostly rectified starting in 2002 with the mass adoption of Adobe Flash as user’s streaming technology of choice.


As per Andrew Baron, 2004 was an important year for online video:

…US political campaigns often begets online trends and with the 2004 presidential election, Howard Dean’s campaign took the online world by storm not just by chatter, but because micro donations became significant and challenged traditional means of hitting up only the established elite.

Coinciding with the election of 2004 was the prevalence of broadband speeds, and with half of American homes reaching better than dial-up transfer rates, along with all the noise created by the blogs and pundits of the internet, an audience was born, capable and accustomed to online payments (i.e. market potential) and finally able to watch video, on demand by the masses…” (http://dembot.com/post/310798115/a-decade-in-history-of-online-video)

Andrew is probably one of he best qualified people to make this type of statement with any validation. In October that year he established Rocketboom, “the longest running online video show to date” . He’s also widely recognized as being one of the world’s first vloggers.


Valentine’s day of 2005 was the day chosen to establish the company that has since become synonymous with online video. Indeed some resources count the history of Online Video from this point, ignoring everything that preceded it.

In case you still need me to spell it out, Valentine 2005 was Youtube‘s birthday, and in April of the same year their first videos came online. Remember this?


What next?

I’ll continue this history in future posts. Meanwhile if you’d like to learn more about the history of the Web’s first 50 years checkout this:



  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_video
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streaming_media#History
  3. http://dembot.com/post/310798115/a-decade-in-history-of-online-video
  4. http://blog.vidcaster.com/post/7877586117/great-moments-in-online-video-history
  5. http://www.sharethrough.com/2011/02/a-brief-history-of-interactive-branded-online-video

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nesster/5046382941