Serving It From the Web

Apr 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The notion of a digital home where content can move seamlessly among different devices has been gaining traction since the Consumer Electronics Show in January in Las Vegas, where a number of key consumer electronics and software companies, such as Microsoft and Intel, introduced strategies to usher in true convergence between the PC and TV. That convergence theme likely will spill over into this week’s National Association of Broadcasters’ convention in Las Vegas as well, where PC makers, such as Hewlett-Packard, will have a large presence.
On-demand delivery of content from the PC to the TV will play a key role in the evolution of TV and the growing role of the computer in that progression. Intel formed a partnership earlier this year with broadband movie provider Movielink, and TiVo-esque service Akimbo plans to deliver hard-to-find content from the Internet to the TV starting in June. New VOD entrant RipeTV said it will launch its new on-demand service later this year on cable and broadband simultaneously.
Just last week online video-on-demand service CinemaNow formed a partnership with SBC Yahoo! to offer a customized version of its VOD Web site for SBC Yahoo! DSL customers. In addition, high-profile content providers like ESPN and Scripps have introduced or plan to roll out broadband-exclusive video content that may make the prospect of connecting the computer to the TV more appealing for consumers, so they can watch the broadband-delivered content on TV.
The Intel/Movielink yearlong co-marketing and technology development partnership is the first step in delivering premium content from broadband to the TV, said Brian Fravel, director of marketing at Intel. “At CES we talked a lot about the convergence of the PC and consumer electronics, and critical to that is content,” he said. Intel is working with Movielink and other industry partners to develop the software to stream movies wirelessly from the PC to the TV in a way that protects the copyrighted movie content.
The deal with Movielink will likely be the first of many such relationships for Intel with hardware and software vendors, Mr. Fravel said.
Movielink, a partnership between movie studios Sony, Universal, Paramount, Warner Brothers and MGM, provides about 650 movies currently on-demand via broadband each month. That number should grow to 1,000 by the end of the year.
“People want to watch movies on their TVs. So part of what we do is push for broadband to start to connect to TVs,” said Jim Ramo, CEO of Movielink. About 15 percent of Movielink’s users connect their PCs to the TV to watch films, he said.
Akimbo’s founder Steve Shannon believes that in time all on-demand content will be accessed from the Internet because it has the architecture to support a vast, nearly limitless on-demand offering. Much of that content would be viewed on the TV.
“The nirvana of VOD would be to have any title you want, any video every made, any TV show, foreign-language or domestic, even your kids’ home videos all the way to latest new release movies on-demand right now. The only way that can happen is on the Internet,” he said.
Akimbo sends additional content not found on traditional TV channels to the television via broadband Internet connections. Current content partners include Africa Movies, Billiard Club Network, CinemaNow, DanceScape, Danni’s Hard Drive, GolfSpan, IFilm, Naked News and StepOutdoors, representing some of the more than 30 video content partners Akimbo counts. Users must access the content through the Akimbo Player set-top box, priced at $199.
More than 20,000 hours of content is expected to be available to Akimbo subscribers when the service launches in mid-June.
A number of content providers now offer exclusive online content, such as ESPN, which delivers exclusively on broadband “Howie Vision,” a weekly show in which ESPN stats guru Howie Schwab shares his perspective. It will add ESPNNews Updates this summer.
The content is designed to make broadband more valuable, but it may also help shepherd convergence because compelling content will likely drive adoption of devices such as the Windows XP Media Center PC, that deliver content across a multitude of devices. Microsoft plans to roll out a portable version of the Media Center later this year.
“At some point almost everything is going to be available on-demand,” said Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for Microsoft TV. “I think what you see over time is a blurring of how the content gets to you over which device, what type of network. Over time, we will see that blurring, but the experience to the consumer will not change as dramatically.