Several cable networks, with the help of server manufacturers, are betting that offering video-on-demand as a monthly subscription service is a key to unlocking the movie studio vaults.
ESPN, HBO, Showtime, Starz Encore and others have announced SVOD models that will allow consumers to access such popular shows as The Sopranos
as many times as they want for a monthly fee. A trial of his company's HBO On Demand begins at an AOL Time Warner system in Columbia S.C., next month.
Similar to VOD, these new subscription services would also provide VCR-like control that enables subscribers to play, rewind and pause a program whenever they want. That, says Bob Zitter, HBO senior vice president of technology operations. is essential to success and helps such services match some popular features of personal video recorders.
"Pay-per-view didn't take off as much as was first predicted," he said. "But we feel that, with personal controls to start and stop a program at will, consumers will embrace VOD."
SVOD demands more storage capacity, faster operation and increasingly complex electronic transactions, and companies that manufacture servers and VOD billing software demonstrated that technology at the NCTA convention last week.
Concurrent Computer Corp. showed an upgraded version of its MediaHawk Model 2000 Broadband VOD system, which is installed in about 16 AOL Time Warner systems and Comcast and Cox systems using either Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta set-top boxes. The company is now claiming up to 1,000 hours of storage capacity within a single rack unit.
Del Kunert, vice president of marketing at Concurrent Computer Corp., said a Concurrent VOD system costs about $350 per stream per session. The operator also pays about $350 per stream for hardware to get the signal to a subscriber's home. That stream is sent wide over a cable system, but, with an estimated 7% consumer use per stream, Kunert says, the operator makes about $2 per month per sub.
SeaChange International exhibited servers handling its version of a QAM signal to ensure that it can work with any headend system in the country. According to Yvette Gordon, vice president of interactive technologies, the IC 4000 video server can be configured to deliver up to 2,000 video streams in the European Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) standard from a single rack system.
Diva provides electronic billing and systems integration that enable VOD and says it has systems installed in 26 systems in 24 markets.
The company announced a new partnership with Universal Music Group to develop and deliver interactive music video programs for cable subscribers. Called "The Viewing Lounge," the on-demand service will enable consumers to create personalized blocks of their favorite music videos from Universal artists. Charter Communications will also use Diva to bring VOD to Fort Worth, Texas, and St. Louis using its DVS 5000 server.