SeaChange helps broadcasters tie in to growing VOD services

As broadcast stations and sports producers move into digital television operation, new ways of distributing and leveraging their content to help pay for the transition are critical to financial success. Identifying them and putting the technology in place to make it happen is the challenge.

In one example that has worked for the past year, Comcast's Philadelphia cable system is recording local broadcast newscasts, sporting events and national network programs, making them available on-demand shortly after the broadcasts air live. Using specialized software from SeaChange International, called the SeaChange Record System, Comcast is able to automatically capture and add the recorded broadcast to its video-on-demand (VOD) library.

For cable operators, the Record System software helps make its VOD service that much more attractive because this broadcast content can be offered to digital subscribers at their convenience. Broadcasters gain opportunities to broaden their viewership beyond programming schedules. With equal ease, analog, digital and HD signals can supply content to VOD libraries.

Around the clock and without operator intervention, local newscasts can be captured and stored on a SeaChange VOD System and made available to digital subscribers as part of broader on-demand services. Once a subsequent newscast has aired, the Record System automatically adds a new 'asset' to awaiting VOD libraries. In the case of Comcast, its VOD programming package offers a wide array of content captured this way. This includes sports telecasts and NBC network news programming (such as "Dateline," "NBC Nightly News" and "Meet The Press"), which are available as part of the Comcast On Demand menu of movies, subscription-VOD, and complementary programming from many cable networks.

To capture and include the content into its VOD service, cable operators use the SeaChange Record System software package that sits on top of the SeaChange MediaCluster server-based VOD system. The system automatically captures selected analog or digital broadcast signals (based on agreements established with broadcasters) and converts them into individual VOD assets ready for on-demand viewing via a set-top box. During this process, the SeaChange system automatically enables VOD 'trick modes' - the ability to pause, fast-forward and rewind each new VOD asset.

Joe Ambeault, director of Broadband Systems for SeaChange, said the company made a decision to develop a solution that supports the business of television - one that keeps control of the content and advertising in the operator's and content originator's hands.

"Unlike PVR models, we took a different approach, because we recognized that with PVRs television broadcasters, producers and aggregators don't garner any benefits," Ambeault said. "So we developed an operator-controlled VOD solution. This allows the back offices at both the broadcaster or programmer and the distributor to put together a product that is much more beneficial to their business, and extends their audiences, as well as their brand."

The Record System software automates the entire process, from capturing video content from broadcast sources, to propagating files to distributed VOD servers based on anticipated subscriber demand, and importing television schedule information. Designed to minimize the operational costs of capturing content, the Record System allocates just a few video encoders to record incoming content from a large number of sources, whether it be broadcast, cable or satellite.

The Record System also accommodates specific business rules based on contracts with television networks, allowing cable operators to predetermine the lifecycle and usage of recorded content.

Comcast has programmed its system to automatically record Flyers home games, for example. Following the live broadcast, the recorded games are distributed across the SeaChange VOD system with the same automation and security provided for any other VOD asset.

The cable operator then makes each game available for viewing - streamed on-demand with pause, fast-forward and rewind convenience - until the next scheduled game is played and recorded. Weekly series', such as NBC's "Meet the Press" remain available for the entire week. The VOD guide, running on the digital set-top box, automatically reflects the changes in the on-screen line-up.

Next year, SeaChange will add the capability for its VOD systems to insert digital ads into individual VOD streams. This will allow the strategic placement of commercials based on the finely targeted audiences for specific VOD content, thus further extending VOD benefits to broadcasters.

SeaChange said its VOD systems provide more than 630,000 on-demand streams in more than 100 deployments for North America's largest cable operators, including Adelphia, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox, Insight, Mediacom, RCN, and Rogers Cable. The company has already begun deploying Record Systems in support of a number of VOD services across the country.

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