iBlast Puts Broadcasters' DTV Capability Into Play

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After watching its market head south during the telecom-sector depression, datacasting service iBlast Inc. has stayed in the game — and has now introduced its first commercial service, centered on video games.

The Los Angeles-based company recently introduced Game Silo in seven U.S. markets. The product allows gaming mavens to download up to three gigabytes of games, game trailers and other video files each day.

The service uses the digital broadcast spectrum allotted to local television stations. Content is beamed alongside over-the-air signals and directly into subscribers' hard drives, thus avoiding the Internet. An indoor desktop antenna attached to the PC serves as the link.

iBlast is owned by a consortium of broadcast-television companies — including Gannett Co., Cox Enterprises Inc. and Tribune Co. — and those companies will share in the revenue from the service.

Game Silo will start in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and San Jose, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Atlanta; and Phoenix. Plans are to roll the product out to more than 92 percent of U.S. TV households within the next 24 months.

With Game Silo, iBlast will launch "a very targeted, focused service that delivers something very valuable to people, and uses the inherent benefits of datacasting in a way that provides real value to consumers that they can't get elsewhere," said company president David Wertheimer.

That benefit is the ability to transmit 75 gigabytes of data per day over DTV transmitters owned by iBlast's 260 TV-station affiliates — and, on average, it has two affiliates per market. That data-transfer capacity will be especially welcome for gamers frustrated from trying to download huge game files over narrowband or even broadband connections, Wertheimer said.

"You talk about downloading 100, 200 megabytes over even the fattest broadband connection — it's like pushing 20 pounds of material through a five-pound pipe," he said. "That is not a good use of the Internet, and it is difficult to do even on a broadband connection. Without broadband, forget it."

iBlast's hardware investment is a single transmission unit installed at each station. That unit funnels the data streams alongside the station's 6-megahertz digital signal.

"We've figured out how to build out our broadcast capability in local markets in a very cost-effective manner, and we are able to light up new cities and new broadcast towers at very low marginal cost to us," Wertheimer said. "Our business is built on the powerful backs of the broadcasters, who are already forced by the [Federal Communications Commission] to build out the digital broadcast capability."

A basic Game Silo subscription costs $9.95 per month. Full game releases and à la carte titles are also available, starting at $4.95 apiece.

The required indoor antenna comes either as a $179 internal protocol-control information (PCI) card or a $199 external universal serial bus unit. The gear is being offered for $79 or $99, respectively, for a limited time.

On average, iBlast expects Game Silo traffic will make up between 3 and 5 gigabytes of data per day, leaving ample room for other services the company is now developing.

"Game Silo is the first of a number of services we are going to launch on top of the iBlast network," Wertheimer said. "We've got a number of other services in development now that we will be launching on top of the network."

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