Services & Software

Windows Media 9 heads to home theaters

Korea Telecom inks a deal with Microsoft to license its Windows Media technology to deliver on-demand movies and TV shows to 4.4 million broadband Net subscribers in South Korea.

Microsoft widened adoption for its Windows Media technology this week in a deal with Korea Telecom to deliver on-demand video to 4.4 million broadband Net subscribers in South Korea.

KT (formerly Korea Telecom), the No. 1 telecommunications and broadband provider in South Korea, licensed Microsoft's multimedia software, Windows Media 9 Series, to offer movies and TV shows through HomeMedia, a new pay-per-view, on-demand service launched Wednesday.

Using Microsoft's video and audio streaming technology, KT's broadband subscribers will be able to download and view videos on a PC, as well as wirelessly project them to a television set. Also, by the end of the year, KT will use Microsoft's multimedia servers to power the service, Microsoft said.

The partnership is Microsoft's first with a major telecom provider and part of the software giant's strategy to establish Windows Media as the standard for digital media delivery on the PC and other devices. The company launched a test version of Windows Media 9 Services with great fanfare in September. Since that time, it has signed up a number of licensing customers for the software, including chipmakers and overseas video-on-demand providers.

"It's another example of the types of deals we'll see from Microsoft as it tries to leverage and extend Windows Media 9 Series' reach beyond the traditional PC desktop," said Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research.

"The goal here is to create Windows Media 9 as the de facto standard for all digital media, period," he added. "If it's going to make it a more ubiquitous standard than MP3, it will push hard to get into digital theater, set-top boxes and other consumer devices."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Hollywood dreaming
Hollywood is a big focus for Microsoft. The company's media software has been used recently to digitally screen four independent films; and it will be the vehicle for digital distribution of new short films from automaker BMW broadcast online and in digital theaters. Moviesystem, one of Europe's largest video-on-demand providers, is also using Windows Media in its Net film service NetCine.

KT may be a prime partner in two ways. South Korea is way ahead of the United States and other countries in broadband Internet access, which is vital to delivering rich content like digital movies. More than 67 percent of Internet customers there subscribe to a high-speed service, according to a September report from the Korean Ministry of Information and Communications. Also, KT is different in that it is a telecom company starting up its own video-on-demand service as opposed to an independent service seeking to align with cable providers.

"This is part of our strategy; we see Windows Media 9 as a collection of technological building blocks for companies to create their own unique services," said Michael Aldridge, lead product manager for Windows Digital Media division at Microsoft. "With one of the largest telcos in the world, this is huge affirmation for our technology."

HomeMedia, which launched on Wednesday, has a library of about 2,000 film and TV titles, drawing from Korean movie studios and national broadcast networks. The content, available with Windows advanced surround sound, can be streamed onto a PC over broadband Internet connections at both 500kbps and 1mbps.

KT developed HomeMedia to connect the PC to the television using a wireless connection. Customers can purchase first-run films ranging in price from $1 to $3 or buy subscription packages for specific collections of videos costing between $5 and $10. The company is in discussions with international movie studios to license their content.