A new broadband media

Is it possible that one day we will face a great broadband glut? Unlikely. What is certain, however, is that the broadcasting world will be delivering more than television and movie content. The old, familiar broadcast media is finding a new rhythm.

After years of blood, sweat, tears and enormous amounts of money, high-definition television (HDTV or DTV for short) has finally arrived.

Unfortunately, very few people care. The consumer take-up rate is low and broadcaster’s expenses are high.

Leave it to entrepreneurs to figure out how to repackage DTV in a way that sells.

What sells these days? Broadband and the Internet. At least two companies have recently formed to provide broadband services using the data transport capability hidden away in the HDTV standard for the United States, ATSC. The standard only defines the digital audio portion (384 Kbps) of the 19.39 Mbps data stream. The remainder is available for video and ancillary data services on a variable bit rate basis. Whatever isn’t needed for the video picture on a frame basis is available for general data transport. The old vertical blanking interval (VBI) traditionally used for close captioning and other housekeeping purposes just got a huge.

Geocast (www.geocast.com) and iBlast Networks (www.iblast.com) have trial systems underway, although it appears Geocast is further down the road. Both expect to formally launch services within 12 months, with Geocast slightly ahead of iBlast.

Geocast’s partners include broadcasting groups, programming and content providers, software technology companies and consumer electronics manufacturers. Geocast’s strengths appear to be content access and a highly customizable service offering. The company employs a crossover architecture that leverages available digital TV broadcast capacity. The company will use this capacity to deliver a combination of instant availability (via smart local content caching), full-frame-rate video (with the quality of television) and interactive features similar to personal TV (TiVo and ReplayTV) and the worldwide Web. The Geocast service will provide PC users with instant access to a personal selection of local and global information and entertainment offerings.

The Geocast unit receives up to four simultaneous DTV signals (80 Mbps composite) and stores the content on a very large 20 Gbyte hard drive cache. All content is intelligently meta-tagged for easy selection and retrieval. The sophisticated content cataloging and retrieval system is at the heart of the Geocast system, with considerable emphasis placed on simplicity. The PC is always connected to the network and the return path to the network is provided by the end-user’s existing ISP service.

“We can offload much of the very burdensome content from the ISPs network. Take, for example, sports highlights that reside on a sports website. High quality, large format 30 fps video clips can be instantly accessed by the user because they reside within the Geocast appliance,” states Brian Klasterman, executive vice president of business development at Geocast.

Klasterman adds, “There’s enough always-on bandwidth to not just trickle charge, but maxi-charge the large cache. From a single DTV channel we can provide some 67 GBytes of data per day per market.”

iBlast’s strengths appear to be more business than technical. The company is comprised of 12 major television broadcast groups, with exclusive agreements with 143 local television stations in 102 markets — covering more than 80 percent of U.S. homes and all of the nation’s top 25 media markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Atlanta.

iBlast’s business model brings broadcasters in with an equity ownership position in exchange for contributing a portion of their allocated digital spectrum, a cash investment and a guaranteed marketing commitment. The broadcasters also receive an ongoing revenue-sharing arrangement, and the ability to freely to use iBlast’s equipment to distribute local data content to consumers. In effect, the station groups become true partners in the development of the iBlast business.

iBlast CEO Michael Lambert recently commented: “The formation of iBlast represents a truly extraordinary level of vision and cooperation on the part of this country’s broadcast television stations. In today’s increasingly digital world, the ability to reach the consumer is still technology’s weak link. Through the iBlast network, we have together created a free, wireless platform capable of distributing vast amounts of digital content, in varying forms, directly to consumers with incredible speed and efficiency. Because the value and the power of the network will increase with scale, we will continue to add new broadcast groups and stations that share our commitment to this form of digital delivery.”

It will be entertaining to watch these broadband companies compete within the new media market. There will never be too much bandwidth. And that’s the truth. Trust me.

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