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New hopes for new media at NATPE

If Jeff Probst wants to talk to some real survivors, he should check out the new-media companies at NATPE. The new-media market has run into some very old-world problems of business models and financials, and the result for NATPE is an influx of new companies, an absence of defunct companies, and some companies that are actually returning.

Of course, it's the new companies that are hitting the show with enthusiasm, as they look to make deals with content providers and distributors for their respective niches. Internet sites, datacasting, online media buying, and pure technology plays-all will be represented among the new-media exhibitors.

One new face will be eKids Internet, which offers a private-network approach to offering content and Internet access to children. With a private ISP offering, the goal is to create a safe surfing environment so that children can't accidentally stumble into Web sites more appropriate for adult viewing.

According to Vice President of Business Development Greg Boegner, eKids will be talking to a variety of content providers at NATPE, from traditional-media to new-media producers. The company has its eye on animation and live-action video as well as Internet-ready content.

"NATPE will be a giant shopping trip for us," he says. "In addition to acquiring content, NATPE allows us to discuss our international expansion plans with major media companies and telcoms. We'll soon be building local versions of eKids in the UK, France and Germany, and strong content and delivery companies in those markets will be a big help."

One of the problems any new-media company faces is how to be heard above the din of all the other companies. Boegner says that has led eKids to place CDs that offer eKids Internet access into every attendee bag so that attendees can experience the service themselves.

"We need to make an impression in order to gain the respect and acceptance of media companies wary about working with new-media distributors," he explains. "Typically, once they hear about our mission to keep kids safe and learn about our partners, which include HP and Cisco, we're well received, and the dialogue begins."

Liberate Technologies, which is looking to increase its presence with cable programmers to drive the creation of interactive content, will also be at NATPE.

Vice President of Marketing Charlie Tritschler considers a new-media technology company a fit for a programming show because the industry continues to increasingly emphasize technology and the importance of a standards-based platform. "A lot of educating and evangelizing about the opportunities in interactive television goes on at NATPE, and it is also an opportunity for us to engage interactive-television programmers with our network-operator customers."

And as in the rest of television, content may indeed be king in interactive TV. Liberate is already working with a number of programmers to create interactive content and will be talking with more at NATPE.

"Content is essential to drive this industry, and programmers are the ones that own the content," says Tritschler. "So it is key to our success that we work closely with programmers to drive the interactive solutions network operators will deploy."

Also discussing content deals will be Wavexpress, a company that enables broadcasters to use digital broadcast spectrum to deliver DTV and HDTV content to PCs, set-top boxes and, eventually, wireless devices. Key to the company's technology is a chip that resides in the receiving device to offer secure metering and digital rights management.

Vice President of Broadcast Distribution Steve Carroll sees NATPE as an opportunity for the company to continue to raise its profile. "There are a lot of executives running through the show, and we want to widen our base as much as possible." This will be the company's second NATPE.

"We were very young at this time last year," says Carroll, "but we were still proud of what we had because we had built a mighty robust browser for datacasting on the PCM. It was very productive for us because we had a number of key meetings with the networks and station groups, and the result was doing the eight deals we now have. So this year we're in a slightly different situation."

Carroll says the company will remain on a pretty aggressive growth strategy for 2001. "Our presence in eight markets is the kind of thing we want to tout to the NATPE community. For example, we're working on a datacast event to happen sometime in February that will demonstrate that broadcasters can broadcast a full HD signal, an HD signal, and also have some leftover bandwidth to do some datacasting. And we're going to do that in conjunction with WETA Washington and WNJN Trenton, N.J."

In addition to capability discussions, will be further content discussions. "We want to continue to have content discussions, and that's why we need to be at NATPE," Carroll says. "But we're not feeling that everything for us is riding on the next huge content deal. We want the deals, but we also know that we can't just sit here and say we can't go forward unless we get large content plays."

The new-media presence will also extend beyond content delivery. eMadison, for example, will arrive at the show with its software platform designed to help facilitate initiation, negotiation, execution and management of media buying over the Internet. For Vice Chairman and Chief Marketing Officer Don Robinson, the show is a chance to show the system to both station groups and agency people.

"Essentially, our customers are general managers and general sales managers," he explains. "We are a technology company, but we see ourselves as a media company using technology to change the process. So we're somewhere in between a technology company and a media company."

He says one of the advantages of exhibiting at NATPE is that, of the approximately 30 companies that claim to offer the types of media-buying services eMadison has, only four or five will be at NATPE. "They will probably only be the companies that have something better than a presentation, because it's tough to be at a show with just a presentation," he says.

More important, he believes the market won't support a number of companies in the online-media-buying market, so it's important to be at this NATPE because the winners in that field will most likely be declared by NATPE 2002. "This game will be over in the next six or eight months, and the industry will decide on one, two or maybe three players. If you talk to the stations and agencies, they're confused about who really has something. And they can't test out every system."

Robinson adds that eMadison is currently testing its system in Dallas and those tests should be over by NATPE, so the company can go to the show with proof of service. "In this kind of field, you don't want to show competitors what you're doing because you don't want them to copy it," he adds. "And if they are on the wrong track, you don't want to illuminate that."

While the list of new-media exhibitors may look a bit heavy in content and services, there will also be some technology companies, looking to help broadcasters more effectively encode and deliver streaming content. For example, Vingage will be on hand with its Vingage video server, a server that streams all major formats through real-time transcoding and delivery from a single file.

The server utilizes transparent user identification of the viewer's environment, discerning the appropriate streaming player, device platform and connection speed-all invisibly to the end user. Vingage's technology provides dramatic ease-of-use for the end user, enhancing the Internet viewing experience while increasing revenue opportunities.

In addition, providers can save money and reduce storage needs because the Vingage Video Server allows video assets to be stored in single, high-quality files vs. multiple file formats. As new video formats are updated and introduced, the stored video files are automatically updated to take advantage of these formats, eliminating the need to re-encode the video.

Vingage CEO Daniel Schiappa says that, while the company is a "diamond in the rough" in a lot of respects, it has been around for about a year and has just taken the covers off its technology in the past couple months. "We're definitely looking to sign deals, and we've having discussions with major content companies and studios that we plan on finalizing at the show. And we also plan on getting some new business at the show."

The key, he adds, is that streaming content still has some improvements on both the content-provider side and the end-user side. Thus, the business opportunity. "Streaming media today is not convenient for the providers, and it's not easy for the end user unless you're an engineer," he says. "We built our entire software product suite to address those issues."