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Multimedia: Looking Ahead, Looking Back

By | February 1, 2005

      By Peter J. Brown

      Every twelve months, this columnist is handed an opportunity to either wrap-up last year’s loose ends or plunge headlong into the open door of the coming year. This will be a bit of both. After all, a year that brought us both the magical moment from SpaceShip One and Wall Street investors buying up global satellite operations is awfully hard to let go.

      Service launches like HDTV-heavy VOOM in the United States and S-band multimedia superstar-to-be MBSAT in Asia have hit some significant snags. Hopefully, the two can get back on track. In the meantime, the team at Euro1080, which is attempting to soar with a satellite-friendly HDTV business plan of its own, tells me that all lights are green for its MPEG-4 play later this year in Europe.

      CEO Charlie Ergen has to be chomping at the bit, as his company, Echostar, has to start dismantling satellite dishes in the not too distant future unless some miracle happens. Tearing down dishes is not the direction in which we want to be heading. So, Via Satellite tried to be supportive and identify a possible solution. We even urged the Echostar team to consider the creation of a neutral third party — we picked the name Midstream Satellite Communications LLP — to serve as a local-into-local bandwidth pool for both Echostar and DirecTV going forward. Was this too out of the box for the folks in Colorado? We can only guess as the idea died on the vine.

      Speaking of vines, as we tried to assist Echostar, through the grapevine we were steered in the direction of the Sony Passage as a possible satellite play. We leave this chapter open for now, but with Wildblue about to make its debut and coming on strong with DOCSIS, and with the successful completion by Starz Encore Group LLC of the first satellite transmission of an OpenCable Applications Platform (OCAP) application, we will definitely have our antenna up when it comes to further evolutions of cable over satellite technology.

      And all things terrestrial need another hard look in our book given the news from Saskatchewan. For years, we thought Atlantic Canada would be the place where the tide would turn with respect to TV over ADSL. Well, it looks like all the arrows are pointed much further west where Sasktel now serves 450,000 business and residential customers. In case you were unaware of it, Pace’s STBs are a big part of the reason that Sasktel’s IPTV drive is alive and kicking under the banner of Max Interactive Services. People who want things like unlimited high-speed Internet on their TVs — including TV Web browsing — and PCs, multiple e-mail addresses, digital TV with VoD, digital commercial-free music channels mixed with local AM and FM radio, parental controls and interactive portals, NOW GET IT VIA A SINGLE WIRE.

      Sorry for all the caps, but the process of getting the attention of the DBS and DTH sectors is not always easy. Besides, too many of us associate IPTV in North America with far-flung rural telcos. Credit all these guys from rural telcos and big telcos alike for their hard work, customer friendliness and vision. They will be a force to be reckoned with, mark my words.

      As for the cascade of companies — some with mythological names like Apollo and Zeus — that have put megabucks on the line in order to buy into the satellite dream, we applaud your enthusiasm and are eager to help you navigate. As for the new faces, hello. As for some old faces, best wishes.

      With a decade of DBS domination to reflect upon, Eddy Hartenstein has announced that he will be departing DirecTV. We salute his role in transforming small dishes into big revenue generators.

      I see satellite radio on a roll, a view shared by 4 million or so subscribers. Sirius was a constant presence, a top performer on the NASDAQ exchange in late 2004. Driving around this fall with Sirius and the Sanyo CRSR-10, which has a price tag of $149.95, has been quite enjoyable, well suited to compete with receivers like the Delphi Roady and the Roady2 that XM Satellite Radio introduced a few months ago. Of course, wheeling around with XM is wonderful, too.

      The satellite radio sector certainly relished the recognition from Popular Science magazine, which named a pair of XM units, the Delphi XM SKYFi2 radio and the instantly updated Navteq Traffic-based XM NavTraffic system as winners of its Best of What’s New Award.

      What else lies ahead? Hopefully, a lot more AVC or MPEG-4, part 10 along with a healthy dose of DVB-S2. In 2005, may your business thrive, your health be sound, and all your launches be successful.

      Peter J. Brown is Via Satellite’s Senior Multimedia & Homeland Security Editor. He also volunteers as a satellite technology and communications advisor to the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

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