Cable operators and high-speed-data providers are stepping
up their commitment to local content for their data services, reasoning that cable's
long presence as a primary spigot of community information should play into personal
computers, in addition to TVs.
In separate moves last week, turnkey high-speed-data
supplier Online System Services Inc. detailed its new local-content play, and Comcast
Corp. debuted plans to bolster its local-content suite, "InYourTown."
OSS, which recently rebranded its service "i2u,"
initiated its local-content play with its recent acquisition of SkyConnect Inc.
Steve Adams, president and CEO of OSS, said last week that
the SkyConnect acquisition "creates a whole new product category for operators,"
because SkyConnect's digital-video servers, which are primarily designed for local
advertising insertion, can double-team with i2u for a suite of local and community
Explaining that SkyConnect's gear is operational in
more than 300 cable headends across the United States, Adams said he's hopeful that
those operators will want to add high-speed-data services via OSS.
"We are totally focused on local content," Adams
said, describing a scenario where even operators linked to Road Runner or @Home Network
for national content can add the OSS/SkyConnect suite so that they don't have to
develop their own local information.
That program, called "QuickStart," gets an
operator up and running with local high-speed-data software and hardware, as well as
electronic-commerce functions, within 60 days.
Adams said local ads are probably the biggest
revenue-driver for operators considering high-speed data, noting that the use of
SkyConnect's traffic-and-billing software and MPEG-2 video servers will enable
customers with cable modems to view video clips of products of interest.
"Say you're in the market for a car: What's
it worth to Toyota to deliver a customized video clip to you about the car that you
want?" Adams asked. "With this approach, it's not the carpet-bombing thing,
where you blast information to everybody when maybe 1 percent of the audience even cares.
It's giving meaningful video to someone who asked for it."
Other local-content packages could include a "zoo
cam," where data customers could check in on, say, whatever new birth is happening at
the local zoo; or personal video mail, where subscribers send video recordings instead of
"With video, think about all of the applications:
local government, sports, arts, high-school sports -- the gamut," he said.
Right now, OSS is working to integrate a piece of Oracle
Corp. "middleware," called "Oracle Video Server," with
SkyConnect's Digital Equipment Corp. video servers and its own traffic-and-billing
Mike Pohl, president and CEO of Louisville, Colo.-based
SkyConnect, said last week that the acquisition reflects the company's intention to
"fulfill the category of multiple broadband capabilities out of a server."
He said SkyConnect -- which he described as an application
and integration firm -- is already capable of delivering video-on-demand and near-VOD.
"I think that this is one of those rare occasions where you have two companies that
actually fit together, with no duplication," Pohl said.
Separately, Comcast Online last week augmented its local
high-speed content play, saying that it relaunched its InYourTown city guides with links
to national content provided by @Home Network.
Specifically, Comcast's new city guides -- which now
detail 23 metro areas -- signed up 13 content providers to assist with local, interactive
information: AccuNet, American Movie Classics, Bloomberg L.P., The Box, Bravo, Classifieds
2000, E! Online, The Independent Film
Channel, LookSmart, OnHealth.com,
SmartRoute, SonicNet and The Weather
In addition to the new content partnerships, Comcast also
unveiled a new user interface and method for navigating its 23 InYourCity guides,
executives said. The new features include a calendar of events; Internet search and direct
services; and one-step "wizards" to find local businesses and services.
Richard Rasmus, vice president and general manager of
Comcast@Home, said the "wide variety of rich new multimedia content will be an added
bonus to both current and new @Home customers in our high-speed cable-modem markets."