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Streaming Over Cable: High-Speed Now, VOD Later

Content producers and distributors get their fare on Web sites using the same video-streaming process cable operators use to economically deliver video-on-demand services to their customers.

But these days, Web-streaming providers are more gung ho about making high-speed access arrangements with cable than providing the industry with VOD delivery of their material.

Producer interest in high-speed platforms, whether streaming will generate as much on-demand content for the TV as it does for the PC and when that might happen were among the key topics discussed during Streaming Media East's debut panel on cable activity here Oct. 3.

Although VOD services are expected to circulate among 8 million to 10 million cable households by year-end, that's not a "significant mass" to grab the attention of streaming content providers, said Manish Jha, ESPN's vice president of broadband and interactive TV sales. Jha didn't put a number on the circulation base necessary to turn heads, but he believes it will come around.

"One thing we need to get for them, as well as for VOD customers, is a navigational environment to work everyone through on-demand," he said.

Situations like those involving independent Web content outpost AtomFilms will help turn heads more quickly, other panelists said.

AtomFilms, with an extensive library of short-subject and animation content, is preparing a VOD rollout on Comcast Corp.'s Philadelphia system late this year. That move will be followed by the launch of AtomTelevision, a 24-hour digital basic channel managed by former Century Communications Corp. executive Andrew Tow, in early 2003.

No VOD models

Stuart Lipson, once a key member of Century's cable team, believes streaming players will stay on the VOD sidelines until operators line up their on-demand deployment strategies, whether subscription, free or transactional.

"The online delivery model is real and working," Lipson said. "The VOD models are still being worked out."

Thanks to streaming, high-speed and VOD content delivery "are getting closer to what they can do," added Joe Digero, online vice president and general manager with Time Warner Cable's New York City system. "They'll become transparent, and then you'll have more ways to process content. Services using both avenues will happen in the next two to three years."

As that market unfolds, streaming content distributors and cable operators must work together to improve the appeal of high-speed to consumers, Digero said.

"Every consumer tech needs an application catalyst, while every application needs a tech -enabler. Both streaming and high-speed players must come together to make these mediums grow," he said. "They are businesses for both of us."