Faster Access Is in the Air

SAN FRANCISCO (05/05/2000) - Plans to broadcast high-quality, media-rich content directly to your PC moved a step closer to reality this week, as Geocast Network Systems announced that it had successfully field-tested a small broadcast network.

The new technology, called datacasting, exploits new U.S. Federal Communications Commission rules that require television stations to broadcast high-definition digital signals. Companies like Geocast plan to fill unused digital bandwidth with data, pushing it out to specially equipped PCs at speeds more than five times faster than what most cable modems provide.

Two other companies, Wavexpress and iBlast, also plan to offer datacasting services as early as the end of this year.

For its field trial, Geocast teamed up with Granite Broadcasting Corporation, which owns KNTV-DT in San Jose, California. KNTV, an ABC affiliate, agreed to piggyback the Geocast data stream on its broadcast signal. Geocast then distributed about fifty receivers to employees and friends in the San Jose area.

In the Field

Scott Johnston, Geocast's Director of Product Development, was one of the first employees to participate in the field trial. Johnston configured his receiver to store financial and technology news clips, which he could then review on his laptop.

"Instead of resorting to print or online media, I can go to my Geocast service and get tech news that is geared up and customized for me," Johnston says.

Geocast Chief Executive Officer Jim Ramo says the new service is not intended to compete with--or replace--your television. "We won't have ball games; we won't have movies; we won't have game shows," Ramo says. "We assume that's where people will use their television set."

Instead, Ramo says, multicasting will enhance the Web experience. For example, he says, users will be able to link from news headlines to a high-quality video report--rather than a text article--or browse online catalogs with product photos that approach magazine quality.

Price Concerns

The largest hurdle for PC broadcasters could be getting the receiver into the homes of consumers, says Bruce Kasrel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

"People definitely want the content," Kasrel says, "but $300 is a lot to pay for the receiver."

Geocast plans to sell its custom receiver unit for under $300, while Wavexpress plans to offer a service compatible with any PC digital TV receiver, most of which currently cost between $250 and $300.

Geocast's Johnston believes that customers will be willing to pay to get tons of free content down the road. Geocast will broadcast for free and will make its money from advertising and "bounty" fees, which are paid by retailers when online shoppers order via the browser service.

Wavexpress, on the other hand, plans to offer premium services and "microtransactions," which customers will pay via the Internet. For example, says Jonathan Trumper, vice president of content strategy, "you can play Doom for free and pay for the ammunition."

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More about ABC NetworksFederal Communications CommissionForrester ResearchGeocast Network SystemsGranite Broadcasting

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