Swing and Sway with Big Bandwidth

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While speculation escalates about @Home/Road Runner
convergence as a result of the Comcast/MediaOne takeover, let's cast an eye
elsewhere.

Suddenly, dozens of would-be "rich-media" and
multimedia suppliers want a place on the big-bandwidth bandstand.

They're bringing sights -- and sounds -- to supplement
the homegrown content of @Home and Road Runner. They're bringing brands, some
extended from the dial-up Web world or from the "real" world.

These brassy newcomers will force the cable-modem industry
to confront its own role: Merely high-speed-access providers? Content packagers? Content
bottlenecks?

It was a handy coincidence that the new Snap portal debuted
on the same day that the Comcast/MediaOne deal surfaced.

Largely owned by NBC and loaded with content alliances from
cable networks and start-up Web-content services, broadband Snap is initially focusing on
its digital-subscriber-line distribution deals with Bell Atlantic, GTE and one-dozen other
telco carriers.

Indeed, the portal approach is taking on a new life thanks
to the promise of broadband delivery. Warner Bros. Online is preparing
"Entertaindom," a multiple-media entertainment portal and prelude to the
company's broadband interactive entertainment-programming initiatives.

Sony Online Entertainment is also believed to be cooking up
an entertainment portal, drawing on its parent company's film, TV, video-game and
music resources.

Comedy Central's portal is just an extension of its
promotional Web site, but it has the opportunity to exploit its brand among laugh-seekers.

Beyond the portals, dozens of bandwidth-intensive ventures
are raring to pump their content through the high-speed lines. Discussing the high
"levels of anticipation" about broadband capacity at the recent Variety
Interactive Marketing Summit, Warner Bros. Online president Jim Moloshok noted,
"Broadband Internet is as different from TV as TV was from radio."

That's an intriguing viewpoint, given that early TV
drew on the talent and program styles of radiocasts, but then blossomed into entirely
different kinds of productions and formats. In the case of broadband content, ventures are
bubbling up, such as JamTV, one of many music ventures ready to stream music and music
videos on-demand through the fat pipelines.

These broadband packagers expect to extract per-use fees
for those programs. Splitting revenues with cable operators is not necessarily part of
their plans.

While start-ups such as Intertainer, MediaStation and
@Home-backed Arepa seek cable alliances to bring CD-ROM content and other material to the
big-bandwidth world, dozens of other Web businesses are plunging ahead on their own.

They envision entertainment-on-demand on the Web, assuming
that customers will find them through whatever pipelines are available.

Atom Corp., which calls itself a "next-generation
entertainment company," debuted early this month with deals to sell "short
subjects" and animations through downloads from its Web site. Its first package
includes"shorts" from several 1999 Academy Award nominees, plus licensed titles
from the American Film Institute and overseas filmmakers.

Separately, Broadcast.com, a streaming-video pioneer, has
set up a deal with Trimark Pictures to put 50 pictures online, with an eye toward the
broadband pipelines that will make the movies viewable, and not just a novelty.

Payforview.com, another start-up, has licensed
"Internet-broadcast rights" for 750 films. And Tranz-send Broadcasting plans to
take on video-rental stores (and pay-per-view. too) with its vision that Webheads can
"tell the video store to come to you."

In addition, FasTV (which started life as World
Broadcasting Network and actually ran C-SPAN content on-demand during a BresnanLink
cable-modem test) is reinventing itself as a packager of rich-media content.

Who knows which, if any, of these Web-commerce ventures
will persevere amid the fickle Web shakeout?

But there's also no requirement that they must pass
through the gauntlet of cable-modem distribution. Last week's "Spaceway"
proposal by Hughes Electronics Corp. is a reminder that there are many different ways to
shimmy in the big-bandwidth era.

Hughes says it will spend $1.4 billion during coming years
to create a global broadband-satellite network. While its first target is business
customers, Hughes plans to bring Spaceway into the SOHO market for "two-way,
high-data-rate applications … at costs less expensive than those provided by current
land-based systems."

Hughes plans to commercialize its new service through its
existing "Direc" brands -- DirecTV and DirecPC.

Another satellite veteran, Miralite Communications, is
developing "AnyTime TV," which will send and store MPEG-2 digital TV. Video
files are stored on an intelligent set-top box, accessible on-demand.

AnyTime TV provides an encoding and distribution system
that can send video over a high-speed Internet connection to its nationwide satellite
uplinks.

With all of this content and emerging alternative
broadband-distribution platforms, there will be plenty to jump and jive about.

Unless the music is playing somewhere else.

I-Way Patrol columnist Gary Arlen grooves to the streaming
sound of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

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