Satellites speed up on-demand delivery

Jun 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Goodbye tape. Hello IP packet.
Showtime is the latest content provider to partner with a satellite distribution company to deliver its on-demand content digitally to cable system headends.
The network will use N2 Broadband’s MediaPath solution this summer to distribute content for its Showtime On Demand service, according to N2 Broadband executives. The new technology replaces the old-fashioned way of making many tapes and sending them via FedEx.
N2 Broadband and competitor TVN have been inking deals with cable operators and content providers over the last several months to disseminate video-on-demand content in IP packets over satellite instead of shipping digital tapes to headends.
After forging deals last summer with Warner Bros. and VOD provider InDemand to deliver their content, N2, based in Duluth, Ga., signed its third customer in May when HBO announced plans to deliver its subscription video-on-demand content to cable headends using N2 technology in its uplink facility in Hauppauge, N.Y. When HBO launched subscription VOD last July, the network relied on the facilities of sister studio Warner Bros., which uses N2.
Showtime’s Showtime On Demand service launched in September 2001 and offers 120 hours at any given time with 25 percent of the content refreshed each week. The Movie Channel On Demand will launch in early July with 50 hours and 25 percent refreshed each week.
Without a satellite delivery distribution mechanism, content providers need to create digital tapes for each movie or piece of content to send to local cable headends. As a business model, it is impossible to do long term, said Lynne Elander, VP of video product development with Cox in Atlanta, which receives VOD content over N2’s MediaPath system for its VOD service from InDemand. “The business does not exist if we have to [ship] tapes around,” Ms. Elander said. “The logistics are unimaginable.”
Currently, Cox offers 250 hours per week of movies and library content in Hampton Roads, Va., and San Diego. As the business scales to more markets and more hours, a satellite distribution mechanism is a prerequisite. Cox could potentially offer content from HBO, Starz!-Encore, Showtime, Cinemax, The Movie Channel and basic cable networks totaling well over 1,000 hours of content each month, she said. Cox refreshes 25 percent of its content monthly.
“If I chose to offer all those services, I want to have the ability to do that [digitally],” she said. “The only other alternative is shipping tapes to the headend. It’s an impossible manual solution.”
HBO offers 150 titles on demand and rotates 25 percent of its content every week, said Barbara Jaffe, senior VP, network operations. “Imagine doing that every week from multiple programmers,” she said. N2 Broadband and TVN both operate according to a “pitcher and catcher” model. The pitcher is a server in an uplink facility that “pitches” the content over satellite bandwidth to a “catcher” server at the headend. Both companies also manage the digital assets at the headend.
“We can tell them exactly what state their assets are in-what’s been loaded onto the server, what’s available now, what’s available tomorrow,” said Darryl DeFreese, principal architect with N2.
Digital satellite delivery also provides a level of security not afforded by tape distribution since all the digital files are encrypted. “We’ll give studios a lot more comfort-they don’t want to be Napsterized,” said Reggie Bradford, president and CEO of N2.
TVN began serving Adelphia Communications in late 2001 and added Comcast Communications, MediaCom and Insight Communications to its list of cable operators over the last six months, said Dom Stasi, chief technology officer with TVN in Burbank, Calif. Last October, the company transmitted 454 hours of on-demand content, a number that grew to 750 in May. Mr. Stasi predicts TVN will deliver 800 hours of content this month and at least 1,240 hours in July.