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Clear Channel catches the Wavexpress

Clear Channel Communications has formally agreed to work with datacasting technology firm Wavexpress to pursue transactional datacasting services over Clear Channel's digital spectrum. The station group will begin broadcasting Wavexpress services at WKRC-DT Cincinnati on Aug. 15 as part of a planned larger rollout.

Although WKRC-DT is the only DTV station among the 19 operated by Clear Channel, the company has been bullish in pursuing the potential revenues of datacasting. It was a founding member of the Broadcasters Digital Cooperative (BDC), a datacasting consortium, and has informally proposed to the FCC that broadcasters be allowed use COFDM "drop-in" channels to support mobile data services.

"The objective here is to find viable new streams of revenue," says Clear Channel Director of Engineering Mike DeClue. "If we find one that works in Cincinnati, then it's my responsibility to disseminate it throughout the group. This is forward-looking."

Wavexpress, a joint venture of Sarnoff Corp. and encryption supplier Wave Systems, is seeking to provide e-commerce applications through the DTV spectrum. The company has developed a hardware encryption system that plugs into a PC as an add-on card and allows a consumer to enjoy digital music, streaming video or software downloads on a pay-per-use basis. The company has performed tests with noncommercial wnjn Trenton, N.J., Capitol Broadcasting in Raleigh, N.C., and Sinclair Broadcasting.

"The first thing I like about Wavexpress is they only want 2 Mb/s," says DeClue. "That's tolerable. Our major objective is to sell our [advertising] time, and I don't want to give up 7 or 8 Mb/s."

DeClue wouldn't comment on how the Wavexpress initiative might affect Clear Channel's plans with the BDC, which is currently pitching the collective spectrum of its members to potential data customers. WKRC-DT is now broadcasting three video streams, he points out, noting that his long-term goal is for each Clear Channel station to simultaneously broadcast one HDTV stream, one SDTV stream and one stream of data applications.

One potential use of Wavexpress' technology, says DeClue, is to distribute virus alerts and software fixes to PCs, an idea Clear Channel first presented to the FCC in May (B & C, May 22).