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In Demand to Satellite-Deliver VOD Content

In Demand and technology company Pathfire have forged a deal to transmit digitally compressed content to cable video-on-demand file servers using the pay-per-view programmer's satellite capacity and uplink facilities.

The resulting platform-considered a major boost to In Demand's VOD fortunes-will integrate In Demand's existing network with pitch-and-catch server hardware and multicast software from Pathfire (the former Video Networks Inc.), In Demand executive vice president Rob Jacobson said.

The service will provide for faster and more cost-effective delivery of VOD content, as well as more flexible programming options for cable customers. In Demand plans to test the service next month, with full deployment scheduled to begin April 1, said Jacobson.

The service is "technology-agnostic" and will adapt to systems that use other VOD distributors, such as Diva Systems Corp. The agreement would allow content providers and operators to utilize a single encoding process that allows content to be distributed through system he adends to file servers, Jacobson said.

The also deal allows In Demand and operators to implement a number of on-demand applications, including subscription VOD, interactive television and electronic commerce.

"We didn't want this to be something that would only be good for only two or three years," Jacobson said. "We wanted to create a platform that would support not only what we want to do as a service, but also what the operators may want to do now and in the future."

As part of the agreement, Pathfire will provide hardware and software that will enable the distribution of Moving Picture Expert Group compressed files via In Demand's satellite distribution platform.

Pathfire's "pitch" server, located at AT&T Broadband's Media Center, will enable In Demand to combine movies and other programs with related data, then deploy that content via satellite to affiliates.

Pathfire will also include a "catch" server, which will receive content from the satellite. The catch server will be integrated with the operator's VOD file server, which stores all of the programming locally.

"Pathfire has server technology which transports ad content to cable headends and news content to broadcast stations," Pathfire CEO Michael J. Eckert said in a statement. "A logical expansion of our applications is addressing the demands of the cable industry as new VOD and interactive applications emerge."

Jacobson would not disclose the cost of implementing the technology. It's undecided whether In Demand or operators will subsidize those costs, he added.

The announcement will undoubtedly give a major boost to In Demand's efforts to serve as the industry's VOD content supplier. By providing a satellite-delivered product, In Demand gives itself an advantage over other providers that deliver tapes to supply VOD file servers.

"This was a critical agreement to our overall PPV plans," Jacobson said. "This is a huge deal that establishes the foundation for cable's VOD business and reinforces cable's value in an extremely competitive marketplace."

Separately, In Demand last week also reached a deal to distribute independent film producer AtomFilms' short subjects on a VOD basis, starting in March.

AtomFilms offers the largest catalog of award-winning animation and live-action entertainment product. In Demand will license a handful of its top titles for VOD, including Waiting for Woody, Stalker Guilt Syndrome, Love Child, Rituals and Resolutions
and In God We Trust, In Demand said.

"We're delighted to announce this first-of-a-kind licensing agreement with AtomFilms on behalf of our affiliates and viewing fans," Jacobson said.

The pact comes on the heels of VOD content-related deals with Comedy Central and Courtroom Television Network.