BroadbandNOW Links with Vesta for VOD

High-speed Internet-service provider BroadbandNOW Inc. has tapped Vesta Broadband Services Inc.'s video-on-demand technology for a service rollout scheduled for the second quarter.

According to BroadbandNOW vice president of marketing Paul Buss, the company is focusing on the residential multiple-dwelling unit (MDU) sector, armed with a suite of Internet and bandwidth services. Its targets are Internet-service providers, overbuilders and the telecommunications arms of utility companies such as Allegheny Energy Inc. and Xcel Energy.

BroadbandNOW serves more than 12,000 subscribers-75 percent of them MDU tenants-in about a dozen primary areas, including Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif., San Diego and Los Angeles; Denver; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; New York City; and New Jersey.

The company also provides Seren Innovations Inc. with Internet services for the overbuilder's properties in St. Cloud, Minn., and Contra Costa, Calif.

Vesta's VOD technology, according to company chief marketing officer Venky Adivi, is designed for Internet-protocol networks. Instead of streaming content, Vesta breaks video up into blocks, which are downloaded to a personal computer or set-top box equipped with an integrated hard drive.

Vesta uses encryption software from SecureMedia and wavelet-based video compression technology to deliver "near-DVD" quality at 700 kilobits per second. The typical hour-and-a-half movie takes about 600 megabytes of storage space, meaning between 12 and 15 movies can be stored on a 10 gigabyte hard drive.

Adivi said Vesta's SecureRental software, which runs on its "video points-of-presence" servers, implements all digital-rights management rules for movie playback. Since the "play" command must connect with the digital-rights management software back at the server, "without an Internet connection, you can't play video" stored on the PC or the set-top's hard drive, he said.

Adivi hopes the company's digital-rights management and media-delivery engine technologies will convince major movie studios that their content will be delivered securely and in sync with the various theatrical and home-video windows.

Vesta's VOD service client software, called NetMovies, defines rental periods and billing rates.

Video servers with Vesta's software will be placed in 80 points of presence along BroadbandNOW's network. Last August, BroadbandNOW forged a partnership with CinemaNow Inc. (which is majority owned by Trimark Pictures) to stream the studio's films on a dedicated channel via BroadbandNOW's grid.

With Liberty Digital Media as an investor, BroadbandNOW can call upon some well-placed connections to attract premium content for its streaming and VOD services. BroadbandNOW also has a peering arrangement with Yahoo! Inc.'s streaming service.

Buss, who didn't object to comparisons between BroadbandNOW and broadband Internet-access providers Excite@Home Corp. and Road Runner, said early adopters of the VOD service will most likely download movies to their PCs and use a third-party wireless bridge to transmit the video signal from the PC to the TV. As set-tops with hard drives begin to enter the market, it will become more feasible to download video and cache it on set-tops, he added.

Ultimately, Vesta's technology could be used for any large data payload, including content stored on CD-ROMs, Buss said.