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RCN Offers VOD on Comcast's Turf

Cable overbuilder RCN Corp. has launched video-on-demand in Sharon Hill, Norwood and Ridley Park, Pa., all of which are Philadelphia suburbs wired by hometown behemoth Comcast Corp.

RCN's first-ever VOD launch will pass 10,000 homes in the three communities. On-demand service will be available to an unspecified number of digital subscribers.

"We're hoping that it will be a good acquisition and retention tool for us," said RCN vice president of technology and product development Rick Rioboli. "In Philadelphia, we'll gauge how well it helps us increase digital video penetration and its effect on digital-video churn."

RCN bundles video, voice and high-speed Internet service in a single package.

"It may help other elements of the bundle," Rioboli said.

Last week, RCN said it had recently extended its service area to three more Philadelphia suburbs: Morton Borough, Darby Township and Darby Borough, Pa. It plans to start offering service in Clifton Heights and East Lansdowne, Pa., in January.

RCN built its network with excess capacity so it could handle advanced services like VOD, Rioboli said. The company has 125 homes on each node and has deployed servers from Akamai Technologies in several major markets to store Internet content locally.

RCN deployed VOD on Motorola Inc.'s DCT-2000 platform, with a Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. interface. Citing confidentiality agreements, RCN declined to name the server vendor, but Rioboli said it's one of the major providers: either Concurrent Computer Corp., SeaChange International Inc., nCUBE Corp. or Diva Systems Corp.

TVN Entertainment Inc. will aggregate and deliver some content from the Hollywood studios, using its satellite-based, automated system, Rioboli said.

"We're evaluating how we'll handle this going forward," he added, since many studios want to deal directly with broadband service providers.

Rioboli said RCN also is looking at adding a subscription VOD service.

New movie releases will be priced at $3.95, with full rewind, fast forward and pause capabilities. Viewers will be able to watch those films at any time within a 48-hour period. Library content will be available for the same period of time at $1.95 per title.

Comcast intends to roll out VOD in 10 markets by year-end, but it's concentrating on medium to small markets. The MSO recently launched VOD in Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties in Maryland.

Also up and running, or close to it, are VOD offerings in Monmouth and Union counties, N.J.; Mobile, Ala.; Savannah, Ga.; Albuquerque, N.M., and Alexandria and Arlington, Va.

Comcast has launched VOD in Willow Grove and Lower Merion, Pa. Given its aggressive VOD plans for 2002, the rest of Philadelphia market could have VOD next year.

RCN serves 471,000 video customers across 1.69 million homes, for a 28 percent penetration rate.