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Cable show puts new technology on front burner

Mar 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

For the third year in a row, a new media lab will be set up at the CTAM Digital & Pay Per View Conference this week in New Orleans. The lab will include a free lunch Wednesday and Thursday, allowing participants time to learn more about the products driving digital, pay-per-view, video on demand and interactive services.
“Our members were telling us they weren’t being exposed to the new technologies that are coming on the market,” said Seth Morrison, CTAM senior vice president of marketing. “Very often, the corporate technology people see this stuff, but the marketers don’t get exposed.”
Though Mr. Morrison said the CTAM conference is not intended to be a trade show, the event’s organizers did want to find a way to educate people about new services and technologies. The New Media Lab was conceived to do just that.
“One of CTAM’s primary goals is to bridge the gap between marketing and technology so marketers can help develop consumer-friendly products,” Mr. Morrison said. “The whole conference is devoted to educating people about digital, pay-per-view and VOD, and one side of that education is to know the products that are out there and how they work.”
Big topics at this year’s new media lab are video on demand and subscription VOD. One company that’s active in those areas is Starz on Demand. In the CTAM new media lab, the company will be running a demonstration based on its Web site, Starzondemand.com. The tutorial explains subscription VOD, how it works and how the customer will experience it.
Starz on Demand’s subscription VOD concept is an enhancement of the Starz Super Pak subscription package. Selected movies are loaded into the local VOD server, allowing customers to watch them anytime throughout the month. Subscribers with VOD access through their cable operators can receive Starz on Demand at no extra cost.
“This year, we really want to broaden the awareness of the whole Starz on Demand concept,” said Greg DePrez, vice president, subscription video on demand, Starz Encore Group. “We believe subscription VOD is an interactive feature that is not only extremely accessible, but it’s very immediately deployable. This is something they can do with their VOD system now.”
PowerTV will be demonstrating its on-demand suite of applications, including food on demand, which allows viewers to order pizza through their television sets. The on-screen navigator is already up and running on a Time Warner system in Honolulu, with others yet to be announced.
New media lab participants will also be able to try PowerTV’s Internet application suite, including Sofa Mail and Sofa Surf, which allows TV viewers to exchange e-mail and surf the Web.
“There’s always speculation about what’s the difference between talk and reality,” said Chuck Kaplan, vice president of marketing, PowerTV. “But with more than 6 million copies of our platform out there in boxes today, food- and video on demand and Internet applications are a download away from being available to a very large group of people. The cable operator needs to just say yes.”
In addition to showing its movies-on-demand application at CTAM, SeaChange will be teaming with TV Guide Interactive to show an integrated application that combines its ITV system with TV Guide Interactive’s VOD guide. Expected to be the market’s first fully integrated interactive program guide/VOD offering, the application will be available in the third quarter of this year. Also on display will be TV Guide’s branded products, including TV Guide Interactive, TV Guide Online, the TV Guide Channel and TV Guide magazine.
WorldGate Communications will be showcasing its guide service, TV Gateway, one of four components the company will be demonstrating at CTAM. WorldGate will also be showing how its middleware can provide a turnkey solution for VOD, interactive television and enhanced TV. WorldGate Interactive’s service allows access to the Internet through the television. Three different layers of service are offered, including My Town, My Friends and My World, allowing cable operator options for how they want to present services to their customers. There will also be a demonstration of enhanced TV that offers a glimpse into the company’s relationship with The Weather Channel.
“We consider interactive TV to be four things: an interactive program guide, interactive TV, VOD and enhanced TV,” said Jim Boyle, vice president of marketing, WorldGate. “We believe we’re the only ones working across all these fronts. The fact is no one really knows right now what is going to catch on.”
Hits2Home will be showing its cost-effective alternative to digital cable. Launched last year through a partnership between AT&T’s Headend in the Sky and Motorola, Hits2Home allows cable operators to launch digital cable on small cable systems where it doesn’t make sense to install a digital headend.
The product uses a small satellite dish that feeds the digital headend and combines it with existing cable programming. The dish and the satellite wire are plugged into a receiver that takes the programming from both sources and combines it into a seamless program guide. To the viewer, it looks just like digital cable.
“It gives these cable operators-whether they’re large ones with small systems or small independent operators-a chance to compete with dish and direct,” said Larry Fox, senior marketing manager for the satellite broadcast network systems division of Motorola broadband communications. “It’s a huge cost savings.”