What now for iBlast?

Both departing Solomon and Chairman Lambert claim datacaster's on track

Given the economic climate, the departure of Ken Solomon from iBlast looks like a warning sign. However, he makes it clear that his decision to move to Fine Living (see story below) has nothing to do with impending troubles for the nascent datacaster.

"I would not be doing this if iBlast weren't in terrific shape," says Solomon. "iBlast is important to me. I have blood in it, my friends and colleagues have blood in it, and I'm committed to make sure iBlast succeeds."

iBlast's Michael Lambert, co-founder, chairman and CEO, credits Solomon with having done a great job of helping iBlast gain 246 station partners. But even Solomon says that going forward it would be hard for him to match the contributions he has already made. Lambert says the company is now ready to move into its next stage, and that will involve deals related to content and technology.

"And Ken will hopefully move on to sign up cable systems for Fine Living," he adds. "This is a natural move for him and the right move for us because our priority is moving in the direction of content and technology."

Lambert's strategy sounds similar to Granite Broadcasting President Stuart Beck's, whose Broadcasters Digital Cooperative has 85 stations. Beck told BROADCASTING & CABLE in July that the issue isn't membership, but whether the technology partners are ready to play. Seven months later that question is still unanswered, and like other technologies waiting for revenues, there are doubters. Geocast, another would-be datacaster, for example, recently dismissed 40% of its work force.

Lambert says the company plan calls for a commercial service to be launched at the end of the year and that iBlast is actually a little ahead of schedule and projections of revenue. On Jan. 1, iBlast fired up the network for the first time sending content from its Beverly Hills, Calif., offices to the network operations center in Marina Del Rey by fiber optic cable. From there, British Telecom's facility uplinked the content to the Galaxy 10 satellite where a transponder sent information to five TV stations across the country.

"We're datacasting in Phoenix; Orlando, Fla.; San Jose; Los Angeles and San Diego, and it's working," adds Lambert. "The next move is to 50 stations, and that will be a beta test with content so that people can see how this really works, and that will be in the third quarter. And then we'll begin to install stations at the rate of a couple week for the next 18 months or so."