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10.13.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Disney attempts to revive broadcast “datacasting”

Given up for dead several times over the past decade, over-the-air datacasting is getting another chance. Last week, the Walt Disney Co. unveiled a new set-top box that comes with 100 pre-installed movies, 10 of which get replaced automatically each week with newer titles.



MovieBeam customers must have a phone line, but they don't need cable or satellite TV service or a broadband Internet connection to access the large, ever-evolving movie library.

Called MovieBeam, the new movie-on-demand service will cost $7 a month plus $2.50 to $4 for each movie watched. The idea is to allow film buffs to rent movies without having to travel back and forth to video rental stores for pickup and return.

MovieBeam is based on one-way data broadcasting, a content-delivery mechanism considered a bust in previous tries over the past two decades. Rather than build its own network or rely on a more modern distribution method—like cable, satellite or broadband Internet connection—to deliver video-on-demand, Disney will rent analog spectrum from ABC and PBS stations to deliver the MovieBeam service.

At first, Disney said it will offer MovieBeam only in Jacksonville, Fla.; Salt Lake City; and Spokane, Wash. But the company plans to expand the service throughout the country over the next year, said Tres Izzard, senior vice president and general manager of Buena Vista Datacasting, the Disney division in charge of MovieBeam.

Disney insists datacasting, regardless of reputation, is the best way to deliver its VOD service to the home. The MovieBeam box, manufactured by Samsung, only works in the household for which it was ordered, thereby eliminating the need for roaming outside the coverage area, Izzard said.

MovieBeam customers must have a phone line, but they don't need cable or satellite TV service or a broadband Internet connection to access the large, ever-evolving movie library. Disney is able to offer customers almost any movie desired because the company has signed up all of the major studios except for Paramount. (Paramount is owned by Viacom , which also controls Blockbuster—a MovieBeam competitor.)

The main reason Disney was able to bring almost everyone on board is that one-way datacasting gives the movie studio complete control over the encryption technology. “Many of (the studios) have come back and have said this is by far the most secure system,” Izzard said. “We do encrypt all the data, and the receiver itself uses smartcard technology.”

For more information, visit: www.moviebeam.com.

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