Video

Clique Pitches PC-Based Videophone

8/25/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Hoping to provide a lower-cost picture for video telephony, Clique Communications is now making the rounds among cable operators and telephone companies, offering a software-driven product that can turn a home computer into a videophone.

In contrast to device-centric offerings such as WorldGate Communications Inc.’s Ojo line of videophones, the voice-over-Internet Protocol-based Clique Video Phone uses commercially available Webcams and a client-software download to turn a computer screen into a video phone, complete with virtual dial pad.

That will make it easier to sell the video phone service to cost-conscious subscribers, while giving the cable operator a way to differentiate its data products from other competitors, said Simon Tidnam, Clique’s executive director of sales.

CABLE DEAL SOON?

“You’ve got a lot of bandwidth now, but you need a service that leverages this,” he said, adding that Clique is close to striking a deal with a major but undisclosed cable operator.

Princeton, N.J.-based Clique’s plan is to sell its video telephony application to cable and telco operators as an extension of their broadband Internet services, rather than go direct-to-consumer, as Skype has done with its video-chat service.

For the consumer, the service starts with a client download to their PC. That sets up the camera image on the screen and creates dialing and instant-messaging buddy lists, showing who is online and available for a video conversation. It also provides a click-activated recorder allowing users to send a video message via e-mail.

The Clique client also can pull up and deliver streaming Internet-video systems via its browser window, opening the potential for combined videoconferencing and entertainment services, Tidnam said.

Clique’s main marketing pitch centers on lower consumer costs. The software client can work with a cable-modem customer’s existing Webcam, but Clique will also offer an optional VisiFlex Web-camera device that would retail for about $100. That contrasts to enterprise video-conferencing products, such as the Cisco IP Phone 7985G Videophone, which retails for about $4,000, or WorldGate’s consumer centric Ojo products — including the $399 Ojo and its slimmed down $299 Ojo Shadow device, both of which also require a $14.95 monthly Internet-service fee.

For operators, there is an added expense in the form of an added instant messaging application and presence server to detect what users are online — plus added capacity for their e-mail servers to store the video messages. Operators can opt to buy these elements on their own or buy a ready-made package Clique will offer.

In all, a typical cable network configuration would require about $20,000 in added hardware. E-mail storage will depend on the size of the cable operator, but for a cable operator with 1 million subscribers, the overall investment works out to 2 cents per subscriber, Tidnam said.

Clique’s strategy of relying on software instead of a custom device may be wise, according to Joe Laszlo, senior analyst at Jupiter Research. He said video telephony products such as Ojo that require consumers to buy an expensive device — and in pairs, so that two parties can talk to each other — are probably doomed from the start.

“Doing it as software and using the PC — which everybody with a broadband connection already has in their homes — certainly overcomes one of the big barriers,” he said.

NO HUGE DEMAND

But the greater problem facing Clique and other competitors is that consumers don’t appear to be sold on the see-and-talk idea of a video phone. An October 2005 Jupiter survey found only about 5% of online consumers used video e-mail or video chat. That compares to 17% of users who said they had a Webcam, indicating that even those who could access video chat weren’t doing so.

“There still isn’t really any indication that large numbers of people want to video chat,” Laszlo said.

Clique also faces a challenge of entering a market that already has competitors, including software-based products similar to its own. Vibe Communications, for example, has scored contracts with Charter Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. for video e-mail, and its system can upgrade to include video telephony as well.

“Clique not only has to interest these guys, but they have to survive a vendor bake-off,” Laszlo noted. “It’s tough to differentiate.”

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