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Video-on-demand in demand on the Net

PBS this weekend will become the latest network to air its programming on the Internet.

The Public Broadcasting Service will test video-on-demand services over the Internet this week, following other networks that are increasingly bringing their stock in trade--video and sound--to the Net.

PBS has signed up with video-streaming technology provider VDOnet to set up the underlying architecture for transmitting its programming over the Net.

Although bandwidth constraints have extremely limited for the transmission of video on the Internet, several companies, including Xing Technology, VDOnet, and VXtreme in Palo Alto, California, are pushing technologies that compress sound and images into viewable--though rather jerky--transmissions across narrowband phone connections. Anticipating that the Internet may be an enormous new market for video content in a higher-bandwidth future, some broadcasters want to get in on the ground floor.

PBS has decided to do exactly that beginning this Saturday. The network plans to post on its Web site episodes of a new half-hour show that focuses on educational, medical, and other uses of the Net. Users can select an episode--released about a week after airing on television--which will be streamed, or transmitted without having to download the video data, to the desktop.

VDOnet's VDOlive technology will transmit up to 15 frames of video per second over a 28.8-kbps connection. Users with higher bandwdith connections can receive better quality. The VDOlive player, which is available for free on the Internet, runs as a plug-in to Netscape Navigator.

Eventually, the network wants to offer a broad range of timely programming over the Internet.

"We hope this is the first of many projects," said Cindy Johanson, managing editor of PBS Internet Publishing Group. "We don't have specific plans at this time. We have many international users asking for access to programs. PBS online is trying to become another channel for interactive programming."

Some local network affiliates are also taking the initiative and launching their own video on demand trials on the Net. San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX has purchased VDOnet?s server technology and is gradually building a library of video news based on its broadcast news.

With high-bandwidth Internet access trials such as @Home underway, KPIX officials expect the Net will become a critical medium for deliver programming.

"I firmly believe that by the year 2000, it will all be one box?the PC, TV, and telephone," said Candice Meyers, executive producer new media at KPIX. "People will want to see video on demand. It makes sense for us to quickly and forcefully move in that direction [of video on demand]."

Other networks are initially aiming Net video services at businesses who already have high-speed connections. For its NBC Desktop Video service, the network now uses StreamWorks from Xing Technology to deliver video over T1 connections to corporate networks. Last December, NBC also aired a press conference live over the Internet to users with narrowband hookups.

Starting in June, though, NBC will begin using audio- and video-streaming technology developed by its parent company, General Electric, to provide higher quality over narrowband access to NBC Desktop Video.

With the NBC Desktop Multimedia Player, which will be available for free, users with 14.4-kbps modems will be able to receive real-time audio feeds and accompanying slide presentations, but not full-motion video, for news stories and interviews.

According to Paul Rosengren, manager of corporate Communications at NBC, as broader bandwidth becomes more available, users will be able to receive full-motion video transmissions. Rosengren said NBC will sell the streaming technology to its own affiliates, but not those of its competitors.

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