Arepa.com Inc.'s system for offering CD-ROM games and
other content over broadband networks will get its first commercial launch this fall with
Comcast Corp., the vendor said.
Comcast@Home, the MSO's high-speed-data service, has
been testing Arepa.com for some time with about 5,000 users who tap CD-ROM software in
real time through their cable-modem-connected PCs.
The commercial launch in Union, N.J., and some other
systems is a high-water mark for Arepa.com, a Cambridge, Mass.-based firm that has worked
with Excite@Home Corp. since 1997 to refine a service that they believe can tap the $6
billion market for CD-ROM titles such as games, utilities and reference works.
Arepa.com CEO Vincent Grosso said he expected other
rollouts by year's end -- over domestic and international cable systems, as well as
telcos that offer digital-subscriber-line service -- as those companies expand their
Besides such features as a "try-before-you-buy"
option, Arepa.com's attraction is its ability to offer titles that retailers may no
longer have in stock, exclusive titles that have not been generally released and other
edges that come from having a huge inventory, Grosso said.
"With @Home, we're doing what we think is the
future of broadband," said Grosso, formerly a key interactive-television executive
for AT&T Corp. and the NBC network. "Tens of thousands of titles could be
available here that aren't available anywhere else."
Comcast is using the second-generation Arepa.com system,
which features an improved TV-type user interface that categorizes into
"channels" the more than 100 titles that will initially be made available. There
also is a bulletin-board feature so customers can swap information about specific CD-ROM
The companies will use the limited commercial launch to
test pricing schemes, trying variations such as a $2.99 rental fee and a
subscription-based model giving users unlimited access to a software title or titles for a
flat monthly rate.
Besides the updated user interface, Arepa.com and its
partners have been refining the back-end system, known as "PlayNow," partly to
address the issue of bandwidth usage that would result from hundreds or thousands of
subscribers accessing big chunks of CD-ROM data.
Arepa.com's technology resides on servers at the cable
headend, the cable Internet-service provider's regional data center and the software
origination point, such as the publisher of a CD-ROM title.
Rather than downloading an entire application, the
user's computer hard drive caches key aspects of the title, with the cache wiped
clean once the subscription expires.
"If you subscribe to a CD-ROM for a week, when you
play it, it's coming down the pipe once, but also recording to your hard disk"
for later play, Grosso said. "The MSOs love this."
Comcast and U S West have also tested the
"SelectPlay" CD-ROM-on-demand service of Arepa.com rival Media Station Inc.
Media Station has commercially rolled out service to Sprint
Communications Co. DSL users in Charlottesville, Va., and Las Vegas, and more new
customers could be announced in the next couple of weeks, according to marketing vice
president Allan McLennan.
Media Station has indicated that its national business
model would charge a monthly fee of $6.95 for unlimited access to 75 CD-ROM titles stored