Comcast Corp. said it joined forces with a new
interactive-video technology partly because its backers had roots on the creative side.
The cable operator has begun a technical test of
Intertainer's new service, which was developed by the company's co-chairmen,
Jonathan Taplin and Richard Baskin, who have Hollywood backgrounds.
In unveiling the new service, the pair said Comcast and
Intel Corp. had kicked in an undisclosed amount of funding.
'I've seen just about every way that you can do
this stuff, and each time, it's been a technology company, or a linear programmer, or
a cable entrepreneur, but never have I seen something like this developed by people on the
creative side,' said Steve Craddock, vice president of new media for the MSO.
'This is a different way to approach [streaming video]
-- their background is a lot different than others that we've seen so far, and
that's what initially interested us,' said Mark Coblitz, vice president of
strategic planning for Comcast.
Coblitz said Comcast started the trial to learn about the
different ways in which the MSO can stream video across its hybrid fiber-coaxial plant,
and he added that other trials may extend beyond the MSO's Buena Park, Calif.,
Taplin's background includes stints as road manager
for The Band, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, as well as film work as the producer of Martin
Scorsese's Mean Streets and 12 other features. Baskin produced the film Nashville
and a number of TV-concert specials.
It was Intertainer's Hollywood connections and
creative background, coupled with the fact that the system was developed entirely in Sun
Microsystems Inc.'s 'Java' programming language, that attracted Comcast to
allocate a 6-megahertz channel in its Buena Park system to a 24-user technical test there.
'This is not just movies-on-demand: It's
multimedia -- streaming video,' Craddock said, describing the service as 'vastly
different' than Comcast's @Home Network high-speed-data partner, even though the
Intertainer service can run on personal computers or on TVs.
'The cost per stream is down to a good spot,
too,' Craddock said.
Intertainer's technique costs $350 per stream,
compared with several thousand dollars in the early days of video-on-demand.
To facilitate the test, Comcast installed a server at its
Buena Park headend, and it connected the service to 'about a half-dozen' homes
in the area, focusing initially on serving up multimedia to PCs connected to Motorola Inc.
cable modems there.
With the test, Comcast wants to learn how to operate and
stage the equipment and see how it works over an existing high-speed-data system.
A follow-up trial 'in a more managed environment'
will likely focus on how to market the service, to see how well people like it, Craddock
Taplin said that ultimately, Intertainer will ride on
MSOs' basic tiers, with movies priced at $3.95 at the top end 'and down from
'Right now, it's early, and it's not ready
for primetime yet -- it works, yes, but this is why we do tests,' Craddock said.
Tom Wendt, chief technology officer for Intertainer, said
the bit rate for the service ranges from 1.5 megabits per second to deliver 30 video
frames per second for ADSL (asymmetrical digital subscriber line) and cable-modem
platforms, up to 8-mbps bursts for VDSL (very high data rate DSL) networks.
'All of the interfaces are written entirely in
Java,' Wendt said. 'We're capable of doing movies, television and things
like hypermedia shopping, all in real time.'
'This is instant, full-screen video-streaming, and not
an information service or a small, thumbnail video window on the PC,' Wendt said,
when asked how Intertainer's service compares with other content aggregators, like
@Home or Time Warner Cable's Road Runner.
Taplin said Intertainer is also working closely with three
OpenCable vendors, and it is eager to leverage the Java-based service for television, too.
He declined to name names, but he said an announcement will follow in the next few weeks.
As for its other partners, Intel has said that it will
contribute servers and videoconferencing technologies to the effort. Taplin said the
company has already forged agreements with 24 content-providers -- including 'every
major studio, record company and a lot of cable' programmers -- but he declined to
Intertainer's pitch is not just to cable's
broadband pipes, but to DSL providers, as well.
Intertainer began a beta-test of the service in November in
three of Pacific Bell's ADSL-based central offices around Palo Alto, Calif. Baskin
said wider distribution of the service to other cable-modem and DSL markets will happen by
the third quarter of this year.
Baskin said Intertainer's 'platform-neutral'
approach affirms that 'there is room for more than one delivery system in what we
believe is a large market.'