New Player, Different Tack

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The content delivery game doesn't have to mean big volume these days.

Take Aerocast Inc., a startup with investment backing from Motorola Inc. and Liberty Satellite LLC, for example.

Aerocast uses servers located at cable headends to deliver entertainment content to cable broadband users.

The company was helped by early deals with sports outlet ESPN to deliver X Games content on cable systems run by Comcast Corp. and AT&T Broadband.

Aerocast President Dario Santana said his outfit avoided much of the misery experienced by earlier content delivery networks that flung thousands of servers onto the Internet and then hoped for customers to support the expense. So far, it has only installed servers in cable operations after landing the contracts.

"We're treading carefully — we're not out there building huge networks and investing in lots of servers," Santana said. "Our philosophy is for this to really happen, for it to take root, it has to be a three-way partnership between last-mile operator, content and technology. And we are just one leg of that stool."

That means not rushing ahead before the cable operators and content providers are ready with an offering that can reap revenue, he added.

And with its broadband video content focus, Aerocast won't even touch delivery across the lawless, congested public Internet.

"If you try to go through the general Internet and pay a content delivery company to move a half-hour episode of something, it could be a very costly thing," Santana said. In contrast, "Once you store it at the headend server, from there it is virtually free delivery."

So while content delivery networks go after the volume business, Aerocast is content to grow within a more sheltered cable environment.

"The promise I think was there and the promise is still there, and I think the mistake that we all made — and I made it too — was to think that it would happen overnight. It just takes time for this stuff to happen," Santana said. "It takes time for these relationships to be built, and these technologies to be put in place."

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