A number of entities that have been offering streamed video services over the Internet
are positioning themselves to compete directly with cable programming.
Their reasoning: They sense that the opening of high-speed access will make
TV-over-data services a viable business opportunity.
As Internet-service providers and telcos make use of xDSL (digital-subscriber-line)
technology to compete with cable's high-speed-data access, the possibility of things
to come can be found in the recent changes at Dallas-based AudioNet.
The leading supplier of audio services over the Web, which has renamed itself Broadcast.com, has begun offering video
Officials at the company -- which is now in a quiet period, as it moves through its
first public stock offering -- declined to discuss plans. But Broadcast.com has already
created a spot on its Web site for people who have high-speed access to receive broadband
data-quality video. Such video typically runs at frame rates and resolution levels below
standard TV, but substantially above the levels that are possible in dial-up mode.
"Our plan is to offer movies, old TV shows and other material on-demand over our
broadband-video channel," said a company source, asking not to be named.
Like other firms in this category, Broadcast.com is using multicasting over specially
prepared network facilities to achieve more efficient distribution of its content.
Moving even faster to exploit the high-speed connection is Los Angeles-based start-up
Alternate Entertainment Network Television Inc. AEN has contracted with Denver-based ISP
Verio Inc. for delivery of content customized to the provider's business and consumer
markets, said Drew Cummings, AEN's executive vice president.
The company is discussing similar arrangements with other ISPs, including PSInet Inc.
and WorldCom unit UUNet, Cummings said.
"Our corporate focus is on developing services for our own Web site and for
syndication through other sites," Cummings said.
He said the company offers long-form documentaries, movies and old TV shows, as well as
short-form programs in the way of comedy, news, financial information and "other
AEN produces its own shows, and it has the rights to a variety of fare produced for
television and theatrical distribution, as well as Web distribution, but its mission is to
create venues that are different from traditional TV, Cummings said.
"We don't believe that people are going to use Webcasting to get their
TV-news broadcasts, but they'll want news over the Web that is targeted to their
interests," he added.
The new model in this domain uses old terminology to mean new things. For example,
"syndication" refers to selling programming through other people's Web
sites. "Channels" are categories of video offered in either on-demand or
"live" mode (which refers to a feed that is running all of the time, with a set
lineup of programs, rather than to actual live broadcasting). One of AEN's channels
is live, while the rest offer content-on-demand.
Nobody has gone further to develop TV over the Web than another start-up: New
York-based Pseudo Programs Inc., which is preparing to expand its
broadcast-studio facilities to accommodate a broader variety of original programming.
By year's end, the company intends to add another 15 or more hours worth of
original programming to its current monthly total of more than 45, said Joshua Harris, CEO
and founder of Pseudo.
The expanded lineup will be packaged in 10 channels, most of which are tied to music,
sports and other topics of interest to people 15 to 25 years old, Harris said, adding that
his focus is on building the business on today's dial-up access platform, without
waiting for high-speed access.
"We're accessible at higher levels of resolution and faster frame rates over
high-speed access services such as @Home Network and Road Runner, but that's not what
we're about," Harris said.
Such higher-quality access takes advantage of the multiple speeds that video files can
be streamed at using technology supplied by RealNetworks
Inc., which is also supplying AEN and Broadcast.com. These services can reach
cable-data or ISP ADSL (asymmetrical-digital-subscriber-line) customers just like any
other Internet content, without requiring the suppliers to make special arrangements with
the high-speed-access providers.
Pseudo specializes in truly live studio programming featuring discussions and
interviews on various topics, mixed with performances by music groups, most of which
seldom get airplay on cable channels such as MTV: Music Television, Harris said.
With 1.2 million tune-ins from viewers per month, the company is picking up traction on
the advertising front, with sponsorships from a wide range of entities seeking access to
the targeted audience, he added.
"Our goal is to be a prominent player in the TV business," Harris said.
"TV production is becoming far more efficient than it used to be, which means that I
can develop services in the Web domain that target specific audience interests much faster
than traditional suppliers can do using the traditional cable and broadcast distribution