Big news last week related to the inevitable compression of release windows. In case you missed it, IFC Entertainment is allowing Comcast Corp. and corporate cousin Cablevision Systems Corp. to offer films via video-on-demand at the same time they premiere in theaters.
Starting this month, IFC will bow two films each on VOD. Comcast, for one, will sell them for $5.99 each. That's a $2 premium versus traditional "just in" VOD titles that don't enjoy the earlier window.
Although they're "independent" in nature, some of the films that are tied to the deal involve some well-known names. Spike Lee, for example, executive produced "CSA: The Confederate Sates of America;" and "American Gun" stars Donald Sutherland, Forest Whitaker and Marcia Gay Harden.
This deal marks a small, yet important, step in the evolution of VOD windows. It's also just the latest, but probably most significant, piece of this trend.
You'll recall that the Steven Soderbergh's indie flick, "Bubble," was released simultaneously to a handful of theaters and shown on HDNet. Days later, it was released on DVD.
MovieBeam, meanwhile, was recently resurrected with hi-def titles and the promise of Disney films in the DVD window. Disney, of course, is a big backer of MovieBeam, so it's not like they're stepping too far out onto the ledge. If you can shorten the window and not have to share those revenues with the cable operator, it's not really that revolutionary of a move in my book.
Last week, reports also surfaced that News Corp. is interested in offering films in HDTV to cable and DBS providers 60 days following theatrical release for $25 to $30 (talk about your premiums, HD or not!).
But all of these events add up to this: The day when big movies - not just the independent ones - are offered at the same time they are on DVD is, like the window, growing shorter and shorter.
But do these events signal the death knell of the movie theater? Send in your thoughts, remembering also that many theaters, obviously threatened by the day-and-date release strategy of "Bubble," did not carry Sodergergh's film about a doll factory in a small Midwestern town.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Editor in Chief, CED magazine and xOD Capsule
Time Warner Cable subs to give 'Top Chef' the vote
Time Warner Cable customers will have the ability to interact with Bravo's new "Top Chef" reality series.
Debuting Wednesday, March 8 at 11 p.m. ET, the show pits 12 aspiring chefs in a hotly-contested battle that will result in one obtaining the title of "Top Chef," plus a $100,000 cash prize and a feature in Food & Wine magazine.
In an interactive twist, viewers will have the ability to vote for contestants with their remotes and participate in polls that are "synched" with the program. Although most "enhanced television" applications are two-screen affairs that leverage live TV programming while viewers play along on the the PC, Time Warner, with help from Navic Networks, will offer "Top Chef" apps on the set-top.
The Navic platform will record and tally the votes, and display results to viewers in real-time in their local markets. NBC Universal Cable is also supporting the show with a local ad sales promotion that will award trips to "America's culinary mecca" - San Francisco and Napa Valley.
"This application with 'Top Chef' provides our digital customers a truly interactive television experience and gives them the ability to actively participate in what they watch," said Time Warner Cable VP of Interactive Television Joan Gillman.
Rentrak bows VOD ad tracking
Rentrak Corp. has launched AdEssentials, a module designed to measure and analyze on-demand advertising.
A follow-on to the company's OnDemand Essentials platform, the advertising component builds in transactional measurement and analysis capabilities for cable operators, content providers, ad agencies and, of course, advertisers.
The reporting and verification features of the system are designed to provide the number of impressions achieved by an on-demand ad spot at the household level. It also correlates the data by day part viewing and demographics at the zip code level.
Rentrak debuted the first module, AdEssentials Tracker, at last week's AAAA Media Research confab in Orlando. The company, following more input from partners, hopes to reach a "full introduction" of the product in late 2006.
Ensequence aids iTV ad campaigns
Elsewhere in advertising land, Ensequence launched a "client services team" that will help brands and ad agencies with their interactive TV advertising campaigns.
To support the effort, Ensequence has tapped Michael Bogdan as worldwide VP of client services. As a senior partner with Ogilvy & Mather, Bogdan is credited with executing marketing campaigns for big brands such as Kodak, American Express, Motorola and Coca-Cola. Most recently, she headed up global consumer advertising for HP.
The global iTV footprint is closing in on critical mass. According to Ensequence President & CEO Dalen Harrison, advertisers will be able to reach 60 million iTV-enabled homes in the U.S. and Europe by year-end.
"With the advent of digital video recorders (DVRs) and video-on-demand (VOD), most advertisers are experiencing a fundamental shift in the television landscape," Harrison said, in a statement. "Our client services team will work with leading-edge agencies and brands that have embraced these changes in the industry and plan to use it to their advantage."
Ensequence's claim to fame is "on-Q," a cross-platform iTV software suite for broadcasters, ad agencies and service operators.
The tech behind MovieBeam
Like Vongo before it, the launch (or re-launch, in this case) of MovieBeam has been followed by announcements from vendors that are powering the service.
In this case, SkyStream has stepped forward to tell the world that its "zBand" system is being used to deliver content to MovieBeam boxes, which come pre-loaded with about 100 movies, and then use datacasting technology to load about 10 new titles per week.
zBand, considered a "push" VOD software platform, has the important role of ingesting, packaging, scheduling and delivering content to MovieBeam players, we're told. It also uses a Forward Error Correction system that can repair damaged packets during content distribution, therefore eliminating the need to reload an entire asset - a nice bandwidth saver.
To keep sticky-fingered hackers at bay, the system is also integrated with the Windows Media Digital Rights Management system.
Tandberg Television just put up $80 million to purchase SkyStream.
Vongo computes with HP
Vongo, the recently launched Internet movie download service from Starz Entertainment Group, will push the promotion needle through a partnership with HP.
Under the deal, HP will bundle the Vongo application on HP- and Compaq-branded notebook PCs beginning this spring. HP will also offer customers a one-month trial subscription to the Vongo service.
In addition to downloaded fare, the $9.99 per month service also provides a stream of the linear Starz movie channel, and sells some newer titles for $3.99 each. Although PC notebooks enable content portability, the Vongo service is also designed to work with portable media centers based on the Windows Media platform.
"Wherever subscribers use HP notebooks - on an airplane, at work, at home or at school - the finest in Hollywood entertainment will be at their fingertips," said SEG Senior Vice President of Advanced Services Bob Greene, in a statement.
Cisco takes OEM route to policy server
Cisco Systems Corp. has entered the policy server sector via an OEM (original equipment manufacturing) agreement with TAZZ Networks.
The policy server is a key component of PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM), a CableLabs-specified architecture that supplies quality of service (QoS) for IP-based voice, video and data services. It's also a key architectural driver of advanced "bandwidth-on-demand" services.
Cisco's entry is sure to apply pressure on the market's existing policy server suppliers.
In addition to TAZZ, CableLabs has awarded PCMM qualification to policy servers from CableMatrix, Camiant, C-COR Inc., Juniper Networks, and Telcordia. Motorola Inc. has also received PCMM qualification for policy server functionality within its BSR 64000 cable modem termination system.
Under the OEM deal, Cisco is marketing TAZZ's Policy Control System (PCS) as the Cisco Broadband Policy Manager (BPM).
The Cisco connection should provide TAZZ with an entrée into the tier-1 service provider sector. To date, TAZZ's only public agreement is a lab trial with BT in the United Kingdom, though other trials and deployments are in the works.
"We hope the Cisco relationship will accelerate some of that," said TAZZ Director of Marketing Richard Cardone, referring to potential pilots and deployments.
The policy server is becoming a key ingredient for cable as it migrates toward an all-IP infrastructure, but maintaining QoS for IP services will become just as key.
"It will become extremely important to maintain that quality of experience," Cardone said.
Last week proved to be a busy on for policy server makers. CableMatrix also announced an integration deal with ARRIS.
In this case, ARRIS matched up its DOCSIS 2.0-qualified C3 cable modem termination system (CMTS) with CableMatrix's policy management platform, which includes a policy server and an application manager.
The combo will enable operators to provide QoS for voice, video and gaming apps.
Targeted to small- and mid-sized operators, ARRIS's C3 complements its flagship CMTS, the Cadant C4.
A bargain at any price
I love a move by Apple last week that aims to whet consumer appetites for portable video.
Apple, maker of the video iPod and iTunes service, said it will offer 1.4 million free downloads of an episode of Sci-Fi's "re-imagined" hit series, Battlestar Galactica. The catch: Consumers will have to buy the March 6 issue of TV Guide and input a unique 12-digit code.
Know your 1040s from your W4s
Comcast Cable is offering subs in Maryland some extra help with their taxes.
Starting last week, Comcast, in partnership with Maryland Public Television, began offering on-demand access to "Tackling Your Taxes," a half-hour show touching on tax tips, electronic filing procedures and how to find a qualified tax preparer for viewers who need some extra help.
Comcast is offering the program for free through April 20 under the "Our Town" area of the On Demand navigation platform.
We are making changes and additions (including international deployments) to our
Web-based "living" deployment chart. If you have a new deployment to report for the VOD Scorecard and the Web-based deployment chart, please contact CED Editor Jeff Baumgartner.