Hollywood Pros Seek to Put Music, Movies and More on PC
By Andrew Pollack
The New York Times, Santa Monica, Calif., February 9, 1998
Jonathan Taplin's career has taken him from Woodstock to Wall
Street and Hollywood. He has been tour manager for Bob Dylan and
the Band, an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and a producer of
movies like "Mean Streets."
Now, he is hoping to go where no one else has yet successfully gone.
Together with two other Hollywood veterans, he has formed
Intertainer Inc., which aims to provide movies on demand, music,
electronic shopping and other services delivered to personal
computers over high-speed telephone lines or cable television
The two-year-old company has attracted modest investments from
Intel Corp. and from Comcast Corp., the cable television company in
which Microsoft Corp. invested $1 billion.
Taplin said Intertainer, whose service will be demonstrated publicly
for the first time later this week at the Networked Entertainment World
exposition in Beverly Hills, Calif., is close to securing investments
from other companies he would not identify, though Sony Corp.
executives say they have at least talked to Intertainer about an
Based in this city next to Los Angeles, Intertainer is one of the early
group of companies aiming to provide entertainment through
"broadband" circuits, so called because of their large carrying
Cable companies say they are planning to install cable modems to
give customers high-speed access to the Internet and other services.
And regional telephone companies have agreed with Intel, Microsoft
and Compaq Computer Corp. to speed deployment of so-called
digital subscriber lines, access to data and video at speeds more
than 25 times that of the fastest existing modems.
Intertainer has licensed, at least on a trial basis, movies and other
programs from Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, PBS and Home and
Garden Television, among others.
"They are the beginning of what I call the aggregators, that are
aggregating content and putting it out there," said Stephen McKenna,
director of sales to entertainment and media companies at Sun
Microsystems Inc., whose equipment and software is used by
Intertainer. "There are other people who are trying to do it, but
they've done it in an elegant way."
It has been the Holy Grail of electronic entertainment to offer
consumers a wide range of programming on demand in an easily
accessible and affordable fashion. But it is not yet clear that
consumers really want this and far bigger players than Intertainer
have floundered, including Time Warner Inc. with its 500-channel
cable service in Orlando, Fla., and Tele-TV, a venture formed by three
of the regional Bell telephone companies, Nynex, Bell Atlantic and
"They're just going to step right into where the first rank got
machine-gunned," said Marty Perlmutter, an executive recruiter and
consultant on broadband services, who is not familiar with
Taplin, a co-chairman of Intertainer along with his co-founder
Richard Baskin, said the company has a shot because technology is
better and "we approached it from an entertainment perspective, not
necessarily a technical one."
The system does seem easy to use. Viewers see two concentric
circles with menu choices. The outer ring offers different types of
programming like movies, music or games. Choose one, music, for
example, and the inner circle offers different genres, like rock and Top
40. On the way to that choice, an ad aimed at the particular viewer, is
After listening to a selection or seeing a music video, users will be
able to place an order for it online and, providing record companies
give permission to Intertainer, to download a CD in eight minutes. The
system also has an intelligent agent that gradually learns the viewer's
tastes and suggests programs.
So far Intertainer has had only a small technical trial, with
commercial service expected to begin in the third quarter of this year
on one of Comcast's cable systems, Taplin said. While users will
have to pay for cable modem service or digital subscriber lines,
Intertainer's basic service will be free.
Intertainer's service eventually would be available for TV sets as
well as PCs through set-top cable boxes. Tele-Communications Inc.,
the nation's largest cable company, has said that Sun Microsystem's
Java software would be incorporated into its future set-top boxes.
Intertainer is likely to need far more than the roughly $10 million it
has raised, and several other companies are providing broadband
services that could compete with Intertainer.
Time Warner Cable and US West Media Group, part of the regional
telephone company, said in December that they would merge their
respective broadband services, Road Runner and Media One
Express. Americast, a venture of Walt Disney Co. and four regional
telephone companies, has experienced cutbacks but is rolling out
service. Another potential competitor is the Diva Systems Corp., a
Silicon Valley start-up.
At Home Networks is providing information over cable modems,
though with limited video. And America Online, the leading consumer
online service for data and text, is moving toward providing more
video and entertainment.
Then there are a host of World Wide Web services offering
entertainment or music that can be downloaded. Intertainer's
service will not be Web-based because of worries about Internet
"It seemed like 1948 television to us," Baskin said. "Tiny little jerky
pictures and bad sound." But the same high-speed transmission
needed for Intertainer's service will enable much faster access to
the Internet, which could offer a more diverse range of services than
Intertainer's roots can be seen in the company's cluttered
headquarters, where the walls are covered with gold record albums
and posters from movies that the founders have been involved in.
Taplin, 50, began working as a "roadie" for Janis Joplin while
attending Princeton University.
Upon graduation he moved to Woodstock, N.Y., to be the tour
manager for Bob Dylan and the Band and produced George
Harrison's concert for Bangladesh. He also helped set up the deal in
which the Bass Brothers bought a controlling stake in Disney.
Baskin, 49, composed scores for many movies starting with
"Nashville." He is also a longtime supporter of President Clinton.
The third founder, Jeremiah Chechik, is a director whose movies
have included "National Lampoon's Vacation." He is an Intertainer
director but is not involved in day-to-day management.