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By | March 28, 2001

      Eutelsat is taking a dramatic initiative in aggregating content for a bold new streamed video service. Unlike SES/Astra, which sees two-way television as a B2B application, Eutelsat is driving forward with (initially) a one-way service that it plans to lead on to full two-way broadband access.

      Eutelsat has dubbed the service ‘OpenSky’ and it is already in action from W3 at 7 degrees East with about 20 services, generally operating at 730 kb/s.

      However, Eutelsat is actively talking to other content providers and hopes to boost the total to nearer 60 services within about six weeks. “We are deliberately setting out to aggregate fresh content, whether traditional video out of niche broadcasters, MP3 audio, games and speciality animated content, as well as interactive multimedia services. We want our content suppliers to be aggressive and highly experimental in what they offer to consumers. We recognise that not all such services will be commercially successful but we are prepared to play our part in this initiative,” says Eutelsat’s Antonio Arcidiacono.

      Eutelsat is urging content providers to step forward with imaginative and even experimental concepts for the new service. “It can be anything, including creative ideas that do not yet exist. It should be of interest to the general public and conforming to a common IP broadcast format over satellite. Our action is entirely pro-active. We have created the playground and are saying to people come and play. OpenSky is fully based on open standards. As to content, we want content that will be visible and attractive. I see it becoming a little like a Yellow Pages in terms of choice. Click on ‘finance’ and you might in time have lots of choices, but click on ‘butterflies’ and the choice might be one or two,” says Arcidiacono.

      “Video will always be important, although for us this is but one part of the equation. This service is all about choice and could be video-on-demand, or at least content on demand with video, and this might include flash animation as well as web-pages. It might come from pioneers in web-art and we are already talking to Art Schools and Media Colleges about their input because we want to see experimentation take place. Nobody knows in reality what will work in terms of broadband multimedia. The initial services will be free-to- air and we will see what develops.”

      Eutelsat will subsidise these new services for a few months and create a site entry page, containing a straightforward Electronic Programme Guide that will be the jumping off point for viewers. “The idea is simple: anyone, anywhere can decide to create content and thanks to our OpenSky service generate MHP [Multimedia Home Platform] content to the end user. The Eutelsat offer can be received on PCs at any place with a simple receive device that gives access to potentially thousands of different services.”

      Currently, Eutelsat expect MPEG4 compression to be the IP standard, but is also aware that Windows Media is a choice for some users. “This is the beauty of IP,” says Arcidiacono. “It can follow and reflect whichever direction the market takes.”

      While the initial service is free to content providers and users, the final cost is likely to be highly affordable. While costs are far from fixed, Eutelsat has in mind a fee of only some E100,000 a year, which is a modest charge for a service that covers the whole of Europe.

      “This initiative means that we are moving ever-closer to the era of personal broadcasting, with W3a having Skyplex on board, which itself minimises the cost of getting onto the satellite. This is exactly the idea and the end goal is one of personal broadcasting.”

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