Millions of people tuned in to see the Michael Jackson memorial at the Staples Center -- on CNN.com, on Hulu, on Ustream.tv, and dozens of others. And as Mariah Carey started to sing "I'll Be There" this morning, it was pretty clear that the Internet would be there, too, throughout the service.
What a difference a decade makes. When Internet pioneers first attempted to stream video live on a massive scale, the result was the infamous Victoria's Secret webcast of 1999. More than a million and a half web users tuned in -- a huge crowd at the time -- and shut down the servers.
To make it all work, there is a lot of what companies in the Silicon Valley call "plumbing" in the background. Companies like Cisco and Juniper Networks supplying the gear to keep the internet rolling smoothly. You may not notice the routers and switchers they make (and you're really not supposed to), but as Juniper's Luc Ceuppens told us this morning, his companies' gear "has to rival traditional forms of entertainment, whether broadcast or the movies."
And the Net is where many of us turn to first for events like this. In January 2009, an estimated 70 million people watched President Barack Obama's Inaugural online -- versus 40 million on television.
The upside of being stuck at work is that we have fast connections, and thus an event like the Jackson memorial is played on desks all over the world. It was a good way to connect with the Jacksons, or maybe just pleasant background noise as you're getting your work done.
Yes, it was a little creepy when the Nissan ad on Hulu ran the slogan "I can make your heart beat short" -- inadvertent, or a case of overtargeting to Jackson's cardiac arrest? But it just goes to show that advertisers now take online video for granted, too.
Either way, Juniper's Ceuppens proclaims, "it makes us proud to support a phenomenon like the Internet."
When even the router maker is taking credit, you know the Net is playing a big role in our entertainment. So, as the plumbing fades into the background, we're left with the memory of Mariah Carey singing -- and a future when we can't tell the difference between the Web and TV.