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GI, SkyStream to help TV and Web merge

SkyStream will team with General Instrument to sell cable operators networking technology for broadcasting Internet-based content alongside video programming.

LOS ANGELES--SkyStream, a young Silicon Valley firm, will team with General Instrument to sell cable operators networking technology for broadcasting Internet-based content alongside video programming.

In essence, executives say the arrangement means cable operators will find it easier to offer services such as software downloading, Webcasting and interactive Web-based programming, even though such activities are possible in many cable network systems.

The difference is that cable operators using SkyStream's hardware can begin broadcasting data to General Instrument's digital TV set-top boxes in the channel "space," which is normally reserved for sending video programming, and even alongside it. And they can do so without taxing the regular data network. The announcement was made here before the start of the Western Cable show, an annual cable industry confab.

The ability to move Web content over broadcast networks is becoming increasingly important for cable operators, because competitors in satellite and terrestrial broadcasting are looking to do the same thing as they try to retain viewers that might otherwise get content from the Net.

In fact, Web programming, with the increasing use of streaming video and audio software, is starting to take on the look and feel of broadcast TV, said Clint Chao, vice president of marketing for SkyStream. By sending this content out over the regular video portion of a cable network, he said, it becomes easier to provide interactive TV services such as links to HTML pages that have statistics related to a sports show, for instance.

Network bandwidth has been an achilles heel for cable networks, which use an architecture designed so that cable modems share available bandwidth: in general, the more users, the lower download speeds become.

SkyStream said its technology has been integrated with General Instrument's equipment used to send out video and data signals to TV set-top boxes. The two companies will be demonstrating their technology at the trade show.

"Cable is starting to emerge as part of the broadcast Internet ecosystem," Chao said, but the industry needs technology that allows it to take advantage of the content available on the Net.

Currently, data and video networks in a cable system normally lead a fairly separate, yet equal existence. SkyStream's networking infrastructure equipment blends digital video and audio signals with high-speed IP (Internet Protocol) data for transmission over a broadband network such as a satellite, cable or digital terrestrial system.

SkyStream said its products allow broadcasters to "inject" data into the little blank spaces in an MPEG-2 data stream that are formed when video content is translated into digital form, which means that cable operators are also regaining unused bandwidth. In a digital broadcast signal, some 2 to 10 percent of a each channel's 30-Mbps capacity is lost, according to SkyStream.

"As Internet programming continues to proliferate, cable is going to prove a very viable means of distribution for that entertainment content," Chao said.