Disney to offer MovieBeam on-demand movie service via datacasting

This fall The Walt Disney Company will rollout a test of MovieBeam, an on-demand movie service that takes advantage of the over-the-air datacasting capabilities of digital and analog television to deliver digital content to subscribers’ homes. Through its wholly-owned subsidiary Buena Vista Datacasting in Burbank, Calif., Disney plans to offer consumers access to as many as 100 new-release and library movies from major studios.

MovieBeam customers will be required to purchase a set-top box with a small antenna to begin receiving the service. Initially, up to 100 movies will be stored digitally on a hard drive in the set-top box. Each week as many as 10 new movie offerings will be transmitted from a local broadcast station via datacasting technology to the set-top unit. Subscribers may watch a movie they purchase multiple times during a 24-hour period. MovieBeam offers stop, pause, fast-forward, rewind and parental controls. If all goes well, a national rollout will begin in 2004.

Initially, Buena Vista Datacasting will debut MovieBeam in Salt Lake City and two other test markets. According to Disney’s Michelle Bergman, Buena Vista Datacasting will partner with Dotcast in Kent, Wash., and PBS National Datacast to offer the service. Movies will be transmitted via Dotcast’s datacasting technology, which will broadcast data over existing ABC and PBS spectrum.

According to Leo Hoarty, chief technology officer and founder of Dotcast, MovieBeam initially will take advantage of the company’s DNTSC proprietary transmission technology that adds a digital data subcarrier to an NTSC signal. The FCC has approved DNTSC, which is often currently preferable to datacasting via DTV because many broadcasters have chosen to transmit digitally with a low-power service, he said.

As stations up their digital transmission power, the Dotcast technology behind MovieBeam will be able to seamlessly make the transition to datacasting via DTV, he added.

Currently, exact consumer pricing for the hardware and movie service has not yet been set. However, the cost of the service will be “comparable to other entertainment alternatives,” said Bergman. No information is available at the moment about the revenue generating capabilities of MovieBeam for broadcasters. However, given the fact that Disney owns ABC and ABC and PBS bandwidth will be used for delivering MovieBeam, the opportunity would seem limited.

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