COMMENT: KARRFALT ON NEW MEDIA

YOU, TOO, CAN SELL TV DOWNLOADS VIA THE NET

Decisionmark's Jack Perry insists that TV stations can market all sorts of video services over their Web sites, and he claims to have the software to make it all possible.

So far TV stations have been left out of the loop in the distribution of popular network shows online.

There is a good reason for that. The networks that have been experimenting with selling downloads over national Web sites are unconvinced that there is any advantage in making their affiliates partners in the potential news business. Will ABC make more money from Lost and Desperate Housewives if scores of affiliates are selling the shows on local sites and sharing the take?

While the networks and affiliates try to answer that question, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based software company Decisionmark is trying to erase all doubt that TV stations can become marketers and distributors of network shows—and, of course, their own local shows—over their own Web sites.

In fact, broadcasters at the NAB Futures Summit last week learned that Decisionmark’s TitanCast technology does much more than stream live content over the Web. It serves as an iTunes-type store for past shows, a DVR and a way to target advertising and serve hometown viewers when they go on the road.

Decisionmark President and founder Jack Perry walked the broadcasters through a Web-based demo of TitanCast on a 200-foot screen at the conference, showing how a user registers with a credit card billing address and how the system verifies whether the user is within a station’s over-the-air service area. Once verified, the viewer gains access to the station’s co-branded program grid that gives options to view a program live, record it or access their personalized program archive that saves recorded shows.

Perry added interactive advertising to the list of applications TitanCast can offer local stations this week. Speaking at a Digital Hollywood Conference in Santa Monica, Calif., he unveiled custom advertising tools that will allow viewers to choose which types of commercials to stream based on their interests and allow TV stations to push certain ads to viewers based on the personal information they input into the software.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Since announcing a trial of the service with Capitol Broadcasting Co.’s WRAL Raleigh, N.C., on Feb. 1,  Perry has been crisscrossing the country, meeting with station group heads and network executives, demonstrating the product and explaining how the technology used to authenticate viewers by DMA boundary works. That technology is at the heart of his service. In essence, it assigns each station a local online franchise that is analogous to its over-the-air coverage.

Perry is also promoting the technology as a way for local stations to offer viewers traveling away from their home market the ability to “place shift” their viewing online by processing rights wavier requests between the two stations involved—the station the viewer is from and the station whose market the viewer is in. Devices such as Sling Media’s Slingbox accomplish the same thing, but without controls in place to allow a local station to refuse the transmission. Broadcasters and other copyright holders are deeply concerned about the Slingbox and its potential for totally disrupting the normal TV distribution chain.

Perry is taking extra time to explain how TitanCast is different because it is built to fulfill existing digital rights management requirements and leaves control in the hands of the copyright holders. “We have the ability to get both broadcasters to approve the delivery of the signal,” Perry says. “It’s legalized place shifting. That’s been our approach from the beginning.”

But people have to get past the notion that broadcasting is local and the Internet is global, Perry says. With the right controls in place, he says, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Networks will step carefully when contemplating the distribution of premium content through Web sites they don’t directly control, and that station owners will be extra cautious to avoid adversely affecting their core business. Elizabeth Murphy Burns, an NAB board member and president of Morgan Murphy Stations, says she is intrigued by the technology and will hear a presentation from Decisionmark next week.

“We have to be very careful. The big thing is not to get into a Napster situation in television.”


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