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High-speed games ride TV waves

Media company iBlast launches its Game Silo service, which hitches a ride on broadband airwaves left over from digital TV. Wanna play?

A company formed by television broadcasters to capitalize on leftover digital television bandwidth has latched on to games to introduce its service.

Media company iBlast announced Tuesday that it has launched Game Silo, offering high-speed downloads of demos, patches and other computer game content, as the first phase of its broadcast data service.

Major owners of broadcast television stations, including Gannett and Cox Broadcasting, formed iBlast several years ago to make extra money in the shift to digital television. High-definition television (HDTV) signals, which broadcasters will be required to transmit within the next few years, only use a portion of the bandwidth the Federal Communications Commission has allocated for digital television. Broadcasters are free to use the remainder for other purposes, including extra channels or data services.

The iBlast network is intended as a framework for offering a variety of high-speed data services, including video-on-demand and music, via that spare bandwidth.

Jeff Pressman, vice president of business development for iBlast, said gaming was an attractive launch market because of its devoted and growing customer base and because it is an industry that's already worked out issues surrounding digital distribution.

"Video-on-demand is a very hot topic for this kind of bandwidth, but the content side of the equation has been moving very slowly," he said. "On the (movie) studio side, there's still a lot of debate over how to sell and deliver that content."

To use Game Silo, customers will need to purchase a $99 antenna from iBlast that plugs into their notebook or desktop PC. The $10-a-month service uses the antenna to download demo versions of games, preview videos, software updates and other content. Subscribers can also download full versions of games from publishers such as Infogrames, either to rent or own.

Pressman said target customers include devoted gamers without a broadband Internet connection.

"Our sort of dream customer is somebody who does not have broadband, is really into games and is frustrated trying to use the PC to do game-related stuff," he said. "We found this audience that was screaming for better bandwidth for this stuff they need to make better choices about the games they play."

Pressman said the service is also likely to appeal to broadband users frustrated with slow or glitchy service. "People are finding out that broadband is not always so broad," he said.

Game Silo is available now in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington-Baltimore, Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle areas, with more regions to be added soon. The iBlast network has almost 250 participating broadcast stations, covering more than 90 percent of the United States.

A number of companies are looking to make a profit off of game demos, patches and other free game content. America Online recently launched a game service with exclusive content, and expedited downloads are a key feature of subscriber services sold by gaming sites such as IGN and CNET's GameSpot.