Broadband CD-ROM and on-demand-content supplier Media
Station Inc. expects to begin trials later this month with several cable and telephone
companies in conjunction with introducing new bandwidth-conserving technology to be
unveiled at this week's National Show.
"The deal points are done, and we're waiting for the
final contracts," said Jim Maslyn, president and CEO of Media Station, a 10-year-old
developer of CD-ROM titles in the gaming and education markets.
Maslyn added that cable companies and high-speed-data
suppliers such as @Home Network and Road Runner appear to be about two months away from
making final decisions on suppliers for commercial rollouts of this new type of service,
which is also being marketed by start-up Arepa Inc.
U S West and Comcast Corp. are testing Media Station's
"SelectPlay" service, which involves real-time interactive access by users to
stored CD-ROM titles over cable and digital-subscriber-line high-speed access links,
The company has decided on a national business model for
the service that would give users unlimited access to 75 titles stored locally for a
monthly fee of $6.95, he said.
Media Station -- which, like Arepa, had hoped to be in
commercial operation by now -- has had to deal with operator concerns over the potential
for high-volume usage saturating the data pipes, Maslyn acknowledged. "We believe
we'll be able to cut the cost of network usage to the operator by a margin of
10-to-1," he said.
Arepa officials had scheduled an interview with Multichannel
News, but they canceled without explanation. Its service has been undergoing tests at
Three elements to Media Station's new "Bandwidth
Manager" technology are designed to assure uninterrupted play and to minimize the
impact of volume usage on the availability of bandwidth for other applications, senior
vice president for strategic development Allan McLennan said.
One component "reads" the access rate available
to a user, thereby assuring that users don't try to play titles that won't run smoothly
over the available bandwidth. If a title is not available for playing in real time at the
instant the user wants to play, he or she has the option of ordering it anyway, and the
system will download it to the personal computer at a later time for storage and playback.
In the latter mode, the user must still go back online to
actually play the title, insofar as the key operating components remain stored at the
server, McLennan noted. This allows people to play a game in peak usage periods that
otherwise would not be available because of bandwidth constraints, while preserving the
value of SelectPlay as a monthly pay service, he said.
The system also uses predictive block transfer, which
operates during peak periods to prevent interruption of game play resulting from bandwidth
overloads. This technique identifies and transfers the next portion of the file to be
played in a large download burst to temporary storage on the PC.
Arranging for the use of hot new titles in the
broadband-online mode has not been easy, despite Media Station's long affiliation with
suppliers in the CD-ROM market, McLennan said. "There's no problem lining up
distribution agreements for old titles, but getting the 'A list' is another matter,"
he added, declining to name suppliers.
One barrier has to do with title suppliers' concerns over
the reactions of retailers, which fear that the availability of CD-ROMs for playing online
without requiring purchase of the titles will hurt their business.
"Retailers are concerned, but they've begun moving to
online commerce themselves by offering titles for sale, and they are beginning to
recognize that the type of play we offer is an inevitable part of the market
evolution," Maslyn said.
When the company launches SelectPlay commercially, it will
make some titles available day and date with retail release, while others will be put
online after a nine-month window. There will also be a percentage of storage space devoted
to older popular titles, with a refresh rate of the whole portfolio of about 10 percent to
20 percent per month, per market, Maslyn said.
Media Station expects to tailor the title lists to demand
patterns on a per-market basis, with distribution accomplished via satellite downloads to
The company is also looking at using its technology in
conjunction with new techniques used in delivering data to TV sets through digital set-top
And the company expects to eventually move into supplying
movies and other material on-demand, officials said.