Technology vendor nCUBE Corp. sees itself as more than a provider of video-on-demand servers. "We are a streaming media company," said president Michael Pohl.
And Pohl believes that VOD streaming is just the first step toward network-based personal video recording and the direct download of content, including digital advertising.
"Our key differentiator is to build business with streaming media, not just about VOD," Pohl said. "Network PVR is very important to me. Our initiatives are very different than the others.
"We're very focused on a server-based application and suite of applications that allow you to watch whatever it is you care to."
But securing the rights to store content at the headend — from ABC or a Hollywood studio, for example — is fraught with peril. Some analysts believe it could be years before content providers agree to such a deal.
But Pohl says it could happen more quickly. For instance, nCUBE is supplying server and streaming technology for Canal Plus U.S. Technologies' rollout of interactive digital services with WINFirst, the cable overbuilder in Sacramento, Calif. Canal Plus is owned by Vivendi Universal S.A., which could jump-start the business by licensing its content for headend PVR purposes.
Time Warner Cable is also interested in the headend PVR business, noted Pohl. And its sister companies within AOL Time Warner Inc. — Home Box Office, Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting System Inc. — own lots of content.
Advanced set-tops will likely incorporate hard drives, which would allow consumers to store content inside their homes.
"I think it will be a hybrid approach," Pohl said.
Most of nCUBE's streaming and VOD customers are international telephone companies, such as British Telecommunications plc, Deutsche Telekom AG and NTT DATA Corp.
Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. is using nCUBE's streaming technology for headend PVR services.