Datacasting for dollars

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Although datacasting was talked about by equipment manufacturers at NAB '99, it was at the center of most conversations at this year's show. Multiple datacasting applications were demonstrated on the show floor, as equipment manufacturers and broadcasters announced alliances to promote the transmission of multimedia content to PCs and TVs.

Most manufacturers attributed the new datacasting focus to station groups' recently announced initiatives, including iBlast and the Broadcasters' Digital Cooperative, that will aggregate broadcast DTV spectrum to create a national broadband footprint for new data services. Broadcasters are finally seeing DTV as a way to compete in the broadband space with cable MSOs and telcos that are rolling out fast pipes to the home.

"Last year, people were trying to define what datacasting was," said Clint Chao, vice president of marketing, SkyStream Networks, a supplier of data-insertion equipment. "This year, companies are trying to present applications."

One of the companies showing applications was Geocast Network Systems, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based company whose sole purpose is to develop an end-to-end multimedia service using broadcasters' DTV spectrum. Geocast has signed up Allbritton, Belo and Hearst-Argyle as station group partners.

The Geocast demonstration included a proprietary PC peripheral receiver built for Geocast by Thomson Consumer Electronics and showed the delivery of personalized news and entertainment content, as well as targeted advertising. The Geocast box receives and stores content based on user preferences, using complex filtering software developed by Geocast.

The company also showed an impressive e-commerce application: a download of Microsoft's new personal finance software, a 16.5-MB file, in 40 seconds.

Another group demonstrated similar high-speed download capabilities using the digital spectrum. Set maker Samsung Electronics, transmitter maker Harris Corp., conditional-access supplier NDS, software firm 4DL and SkyStream Networks joined forces to demonstrate how MP3 audio files could be distributed over the DTV signal. Integrated by Harris, the system was based on the proposed DTV Application Software Environment (DASE) standard. The demonstration featured a CBS HDTV movie with MP3 audio files constantly broadcast as part of a data carousel.

The MP3 demonstration used an NDS smart card, which consumers would presumably purchase. By inserting the smart card into a Samsung DTV receiver, consumers could select the MP3 files broadcast within the DTV signal by clicking on an interactive icon and downloading them (in about 5 seconds per song) to a Smart Media memory card. Then the consumer could remove the memory card from the receiver and plug it into Samsung's new Yepp portable Internet music player. Such an application is an example of "T-commerce," or electronic commerce through the television signal, another buzzword at the show.

Harris Vice President Jay Adrick sees such applications as complementing HDTV. "You're not going to see a station broadcast just one thing," he said. "The business model is going to change throughout the broadcast day."

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