SeaChange Software Sends DVD Features to Set-Tops

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Video-on-demand took on a new dimension last week, as SeaChange International Inc. introduced software that makes DVD content available on-demand, through a digital set-top box.

The content is compatible with different video-server models, whether from SeaChange or other vendors, and can be handled through both current and advanced-generation digital boxes, operating systems and middleware, said SeaChange Digital Video Arts unit president George Breen.

The software, part of a suite of applications called "VODlink," will be available for deployment in January.

Breen and other SeaChange executives last week held private demonstrations of VODlink at a hotel here, before publicly introducing it at a luncheon during the Kagan VOD Summit.

"In essence, the set-top becomes the DVD player," Breen said during one such demonstration. "This is going to make a major contribution to an everything-on-demand world."

Movie and TV studios, cable operators and independent content providers have been briefed about the DVD-over-cable technology. Hollywood has reacted cautiously, Breen acknowledged, as studios would face a number of issues before releasing DVD content in this manner.

For example, which post-theatrical movie-distribution window would on-demand DVD content fall into?

"At the moment, we believe there should be differentiation between VOD and DVD," Jeffrey Calman, the Warner Bros. executive vice president for VOD and pay-per-view, said after his Kagan appearance. "However, we're watching this market. I know the SeaChange people well, and this sounds like a good idea."

Breen envisions that studios would use VODlink to release older films with special features, before offering current titles.

Reaction from other quarters has been promising. Based on initial reactions from the demonstrations, others might explore the use of VOD link for independent film and video, educational programming, local content or advertising applications.

Another issue: whether SeaChange's server rivals — as well as set-top, operating-system and middleware vendors — fall in line, or break out their own wrinkles on the virtual DVD.

"There's opportunity for multiple formats," said Steve Necessary, president of Concurrent Computer Corp.'s Xstream server unit. "The jury's out on what will happen."

SeaChange and Digital Video Arts said they would not be developing related in-house software.

SeaChange is organizing a VODlink "programmers association" of cable networks; content and application suppliers and third-party firms; to develop on-demand DVD programming.