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Benedek bands with Wavexpress

Datacasting proponent Wavexpress has found another broadcast partner in Benedek Broadcasting, which has agreed to use Wavexpress's technology for an 18-month trial at NBC affiliate wmtv in Madison, Wis. The test should begin this fall, when the station becomes the first Benedek station to launch a DTV signal. If successful, Benedek plans to roll out the service to the rest of its stations.

Wavexpress, a joint venture of Sarnoff Corp. and Wave Systems, already has trial agreements with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Clear Channel, Capitol Broadcasting and PBS member stations weta Washington, wnjn Trenton, N.J., and kopb Portland, Ore. The New York-based firm supplies "hardware encryption" technology that allows DTV stations to deliver multimedia content, such as streaming video, on a transactional basis to personal computers equipped with special add-on cards.

Stephen Benedek, vice president of planning and development, says the company is interested in using datacasting to develop local channels that would show community events and would be supported by advertising. But he is also "intrigued by the idea of a pay-per-view model with local sports," such as providing streaming coverage of a high-school basketball game.

The station group also wants to use Wavexpress to leverage the existing e-commerce initiatives it has launched on its stations' Web sites.

"It's very exciting to us, from both a management and operational perspective," he says. "The e-commerce aspect is a lot like the Internet, but it's better than the Internet because you get away from the bandwidth constraints. And it's better than television, because there are so many different streams you can put through the pipe."

Benedek is also a member of the Broadcasters' Digital Cooperative, a consortium of stations that have pledged 4 Mb/s each to pursue datacasting. Benedek says the 2 Mb/s required by Wavexpress would probably be in addition to the BDC commitment. "But I don't see this as in any way contradictory to the BDC," he says. "What the BDC is trying to do could very well merge with what Wavexpress is going to do." Benedek will be able to broadcast HDTV, despite its datacasting commitments.

Wavexpress is conducting tests with Sinclair at WBFF-DT in Baltimore and Clear Channel at WKRC-DT in Cincinnati, says Steve Carrol, Wavexpress vice president of broadcast distribution. The stations are broadcasting national content, including an alternative music channel and a gaming channel produced by Wavexpress and delivered via GE Americom's satellites. It's also working with the stations to repurpose local news.