VOD Startup Eyes Cable Deals

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Akimbo — a new venture to deliver video-on-demand content over current telephone infrastructure — doesn’t need cable affiliates, but hopes to sign some deals with the industry anyway.

Steve Shannon, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the new company, acknowledged that cable is the dominant player in the VOD business, and can drive different companies within that space. He saw that market power firsthand as an executive at one of his former ventures, the personal video player service Replay TV Inc.

Digital video recorder penetration grew steadily when ReplayTV and TiVo Inc. were the only players, but it wasn’t until cable and satellite providers got into the act that the number of units grew to critical mass.

“Cable has the horsepower to deploy this product,” Shannon said.

Akimbo was formed in August 2002 with $5 million in investment capital from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Sprout Group and Zone Ventures.

Executives at Akimbo include veterans of ReplayTV, Macromedia Inc., CNET, mySimon, Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Corp.

The venture has aggregated content from 50 providers, mostly niche material such as worldwide billiard tournaments and films from Africa.

Content resides on Akimbo servers and isn’t delivered to the consumer set-top until ordered by a subscriber, Shannon said.

Akimbo handles the billing for transactions via its set-top. An affiliate would handle the finances if the functionality is added to another manufacturer’s hardware.

The hardware will be available in the second quarter and will be marketed on the Web sites of Akimbo’s content partners, including CinemaNow and iFilms, he added. The venture does not envision delivery of full-length theatrical films until its second phase.

In an effort to protect against piracy, files downloaded are specific to the computer on which they’re recorded and are only available within a specified viewing window.

Shannon said the venture has attracted interest from telcos, which see the product as a way to offer VOD over “rather weak infrastructures,” and from small cable operators.

Small cable operators could see the service as a way to offer VOD without the headend investment required with current providers. That lowers the cost of deployment to $100 to $200 per home.

Akimbo will be demonstrating its product at a hotel suite in New Orleans during the National Show.

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