INTERTAINER TEAMS UP WITH MICROSOFT

Jonathan Taplin, president and co-CEO of Intertainer Inc., is not shy or reserved when it comes to his portrayal of his company's role in the video-on-demand sector.

"We are the Rolls-Royce of what VOD is all about," Taplin said. "We are an entertainment-on-demand system and a VOD-service provider. We are in both the cable and DSL [digital subscriber line] spaces."

Taplin said most VOD vendors -- including what he describes as Intertainer's only true competition, Diva Systems Corp. -- are tied to specific hardware and applications.

"Operators should have the flexibility to move ahead with the least-cost and most-efficient server. We are already working with SeaChange International [Inc.] and Concurrent [Computer Corp.]. We provide them with content, interfaces and applications," he added.

He characterized Intertainer as easy to implement and agnostic as far as operating systems and VOD platforms are concerned. Intertainer includes a HyperText Markup Language or "P-Java" implementation, depending upon the capabilities of the device in the home.

"We set up a database that can speak to any platform. The database is contained on a single database server-controller, which can run both an MPEG [Motion Picture Expert Group] server and an IP [Internet protocol] server simultaneously. This way, operators can run VOD streams to TVs and IP content to cable-modem customers off a single system," Taplin said.

Late last year, Intertainer began a test with Comcast Corp. in Willow Grove, Pa., using a "MediaHawk" VOD System from Concurrent -- one of two tests under way at Comcast involving Concurrent's MediaHawk solution.

A total of three separate VOD trials are under way at Comcast, including one using a SeaChange "ITV System" with MediaCluster server technology.

Taplin indicated that Intertainer "will hold set-top trials with Concurrent later this year in several markets."

At the National Show, Intertainer will show Motorola Broadband Communications Sector "DCT-5000" boxes running on Microsoft Corp.'s "Microsoft TV" platform, as well as "DCT-2000s" and Scientific-Atlanta Inc. "Explorer 2000s."

"This will set the high bar on what VOD should be," Taplin said. "With the investment from Microsoft earlier this year, a new wave of software and skills come into the cable industry."

With its stake in Intertainer, Microsoft joined Comcast, Intel Corp., NBC, Sony Corp. and others. Among other things, Intertainer has now developed a digital rights-management security system with Microsoft, according to Taplin, while Comcast remains one of the quieter MSOs as far as what is unfolding with respect to VOD.

Executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service David Watson said Comcast has not pinned things down yet, and an evaluation of the capital intensity of and consumer demand for VOD was under way.

"VOD is right at the top of our list, but we are still gathering information," he said. "We are looking at how customers use VOD and when they access VOD services. We want to know, among other things, if VOD is bursty in nature with customers logging on all at once, or is VOD-relayed activity dispersed throughout the day."

Taplin's biggest complaint about the cable industry in general is the painfully slow innovation cycle. "In the PC industry, you encounter constant innovation, or six-month cycles, at best. In the cable industry, innovation comes in three-year cycles," he lamented.