Here comes another Internet-over-TV player into the mix.
Reasoning that Internet techniques delivered over
advanced-digital set-tops represent the next wave of interactive TV, MoreCom Inc. will
debut next week at the Western Show in Anaheim, Calif.
MoreCom quietly sent out brochures last week, describing
itself as a see-it-to-believe-it new way of delivering personalized Webcasts to TVs, along
with Web-enhanced TV, electronic program guides and video-on-demand.
What's more, said the company's founder, Ami Miron, is that
no personal computer, phone line or cable modem is required, nor does the service run in
the vertical-blanking interval.
The 25-person start-up, located in Horsham, Pa., was
founded early last year by Miron, a former Philips Consumer Electronics Co. and General
Instrument Corp. executive.
On its board is Richard Friedland, the former GI chairman,
who resigned last year. Miron said MoreCom completed a first round of venture-capital
funding in September, and it will put together a second round by March.
During a telephone interview last week, Miron said he
started the company partly for the challenge and partly because of his vision to take the
next step in Internet-over-TV.
"Now is another convergence point -- TVs with Internet
video," Miron said, noting that MoreCom differs from competing offerings because
customers are never taken away from whatever TV show they're viewing to go to the Web.
"TV is always playing in the background," Miron
Another difference is streaming video.
"The ability to provide video clips on-demand, with an
infrastructure that can grow into full video-on-demand, is what we've done," he said.
Plus, to move streaming video beyond the PC experience --
where the clip plays in a small, three-inch-by-three-inch window -- MoreCom maps the
Internet-protocol packets into MPEG (Motion Picture Expert Group) packets that are decoded
at the set-top box.
High-speed Internet-access companies @Home Network and Road
Runner restrict their customers to a 10-minute maximum of streaming media, mostly because
their MSO owners want to retain control of the video-viewing environment. But by
identifying a way to map Internet video into the digital-cable environment, MoreCom may
have found a way to assuage that concern.
Miron said MoreCom's technology suite runs on existing
hybrid fiber-coaxial networks, using "common MPEG-2 encoders and digital headends,
and the currently deployed layer of digital set-top boxes." It is also flexible
enough to stretch across the OpenCable, DAVIC (Digital Audio/Video Interoperability
Council) and DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) standards environments, he said.
MoreCom's product portfolio is software-centric, consisting
of four servers dedicated to four service categories: "MoreWeb,"
"MoreCast," "MoreVideo" and "MoreMail."
The MoreWeb service is for Web browsing via the TV;
MoreCast serves up one-way Webcasts; and MoreVideo is for streaming IP-video clips.
MoreMail is for e-mail, either one-way or two-way, with an optional infrared keyboard.
At the digital set-top is a thin, downloadable client,
Miron said, that includes a browser customized to run within 4 megabytes of set-top
MoreCom has already filed for four patents, and two others
are in the wings.
Miron said MoreCom will pursue a variety of business
approaches with MSOs, but it will likely seek a 6-megahertz channel ride in return for an
unspecified revenue-sharing arrangement.
MoreCom faces solid competition in an as-yet-unproven
marketplace, noted one industry analyst. WorldGate Communications Inc., ICTV Inc., Source
Media Inc.'s Interactive Channel and Wink Communications Inc. are all in various stages of
competitive interactive-TV alternatives.
"I think that the whole digital set-top realm for
Internet access will be interesting to watch," noted Michael Harris, an analyst with
Phoenix-based Kinetic Strategies Inc. "It's a somewhat unstable market
Miron said he's keenly aware of his competitors, but he
declined to discuss his competitive strategy.
He added that following the Western Show demonstration,
which will consist of "pre-field-trial" prototypes, an unnamed MSO will test the
Plus, MoreCom will participate in a joint demonstration in
the CableNET area, with C-Cube Microsystems Inc., DiviCom Inc., 3Com Corp. and Pioneer New