VOD gains ground

Server supplier Concurrent strikes deals with Cox, Time Warner for MediaHawk platform

In a sign that cable operators are finally getting serious about their video-on-demand plans, Concurrent Computer Corp. has announced new deals with Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable for commercial deployment of the video-server supplier's MediaHawk VOD platform.

Cox will launch the Concurrent VOD system in its San Diego operation, which, at 512,000 subscribers, is one of Cox's largest. The MSO is already testing the service in employee homes and plans a limited deployment to residential customers this summer. Wide-scale deployment in San Diego is expected by the end of the year, says Cox spokeswoman Amy Cohn.

Time Warner, which is already using MediaHawk on a commercial basis in Hawaii and in trial mode in Tampa, Fla., has selected Atlanta-based Concurrent to supply VOD equipment for calendar years 2000 and 2001. That includes both a commercial deployment in Tampa and launches in new markets, says Time Warner spokesman Mike Luftman.

The Concurrent deal is not exclusive, he notes, as Time Warner's goal is to use multiple VOD vendors. The MSO is currently testing SeaChange International's VOD system in Austin, Texas. Cox also will consider other vendors for VOD deployment in markets besides San Diego, says Cohn.

"What we're happy about is, now we're finishing the trial phase and going into the full commercial-deployment phases," says Concurrent President and CEO Steve Nussrallah. "It's only in the last six months that it has gotten to a point where [VOD] is readily accepted. The only thing limiting deployment today is set-top manufacturing capacity."

As evidence, Nussrallah points to the size of the Concurrent system at Time Warner's Oceanic Cable in Hawaii, where roughly 15% of the 254,000 subscribers already have digital set-tops that enable VOD. "We have 3,500 to 4,000 streams, and we're in 15 different hubs on Oahu," he says. In addition to movies on demand, Oceanic's MediaHawk system is also being used to deliver "karaoke on demand" and to allow customers to order pizzas through their television remote.

At Time Warner's Tampa Bay division, Concurrent's VOD gear currently supports 5,000 active streams. Once the VOD equipment is fully deployed, Nussrallah says, Concurrent will be supporting more than 20,000 streams serving 200,000 digital set-tops.