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Intelsat Embraces New Platforms

Satellite giant Intelsat announced Wednesday that it is building an IPTV “super-headend” called Ampiage to distribute digital video programming to telcos getting into the television game, as well as small cable operators who want to expand their programming options.

Ampiage will aggregate content at Intelsat’s Maryland technical operations center, encode it as a digital multiplex, encrypt it, and then deliver it via satellite using advanced MPEG-4 compression techniques to maximize picture quality. Local operators can then take the IPTV package and distribute it on their networks. A commercial launch is slated for this summer.

Providing turnkey delivery of IPTV content will make launching digital video service much more cost-effective for smaller players, says Intelsat CEO David McGlade.

“We do some of the lifting, and it helps improve the economics,” he says.

McGlade says Ampiage leverages existing satellite capacity and is “not a massive investment” for Intelsat, as it mainly requires buying new encoding technology from Tandberg.

“It’s in the millions,” says McGlade of Ampiage’s start-up costs.

Intelsat is also involved in the burgeoning mobile video market, and has a deal to distribute MPEG-4 content for Qualcomm’s MediaFLO venture. Intelsat satellites will pump MediaFLO content down to operations centers in local markets, which will then transmit the live video service on UHF broadcast spectrum.

Last August, Intelsat agreed to acquire PanAmSat, which delivers video programming for many U.S. cable networks, for $3.2 billion in cash. That deal is expected to close in the second or third quarter, and McGlade says the integration of the two satellite heavyweights is going well.

PanAmSat demonstrated an MPEG-4 based IPTV delivery service at the NCTA show in Atlanta this week in conjunction with conditional-access supplier Nagravision and IPTV distribution company SkyWay Connect. The demonstration highlighted the content-security aspects of the platform, a key focus for programmers. It showed both standard-def and high-def programming being delivered via MPEG-4, as well as a comparison of picture quality between MPEG-2 compressed HD and MPEG-4 compressed HD.

While the video landscape is changing and new venture-capital-backed firms are trying to get into the video delivery market, PanAmSat expects that the same programmers who rely on the company to distribute cable and broadcast programming today will also use PanAmSat to supply content to IPTV platforms in the future.

“HBO is not going to turn over their programming to a venture-funded company with $2 million [in the bank],” says Bruce Haymes, senior VP of corporate and strategic development.

He adds that programmers will also likely prefer using PanAmSat to aggregate, compress, encrypt and distribute IPTV content, as opposed to small phone companies and cable operators performing those functions themselves at the headend level.

“Content programmers won’t trust local cable operators on quality and security issues,” says Haymes.