Web-to-TV May Be on Its Way

Ed Palomar
SAN MATEO, Calif. — TV or not TV? — that is the question. Will viewers be able to get the video playing on their TVs directly from the Internet, just as many listeners today get their music from the web?

Several tech-oriented firms are endeavoring to answer this question in the affirmative. EchoStar Communications Corp and SBC Communications Inc. have joined forces to introduce an Internet movie-on-demand service in 2005.

Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo is also exploring the web-to-TV realm. TiVo currently enables TV sets to automatically find and digitally record up to 140 hours of programming, and to pause, rewind, and slow-motion live television.

But the Silicon Valley company Akimbo Systems Inc. appears as if it will be the first kid on the block with web-based TV. Akimbo reportedly plans to launch its Internet-to-TV video-on-demand service in October.

Akimbo states that it delivers broadcast-quality video programs to any TV set via a broadband connection, downloaded onto the Akimbo Player’s 80-gigabyte hard drive. According to Akimbo, this contains 200 hours of video.

“Allowing consumers to download and watch Internet-delivered content on their televisions is the next great frontier in digital distribution,” said CinemaNow Executive Vice President Bruce Eisen.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based CinemaNow is an Internet Protocol-based video-on-demand distribution and technology that has partnered up with Akimbo in order to provide content.

Along with the new technology, content is king, and Akimbo plans to offer specialty programming that viewers can’t readily find elsewhere among the many choices satellite dishes and cable offer today’s consumers. CinemaNow has a library of more than 4,000 motion pictures.

In addition to Hollywood movies such as Tom Cruise’s “The Last Samurai,” CinemaNow’s vaults include cult, classic and independent films that are off the beaten track. The CinemaNow list also includes a wide selection of so-called “After Dark” titles. They include Hustler’s “Barely Legal” series and videos featuring adult stars such as Jessica Drake.

It remains to be seen whether the web-to-TV novelty will catch on with consumers as the next big thing. As with many new technologies, the Akimbo system has both cost and technical issues.

Subscribers reportedly must pay $229 for the Akimbo Player box that accompanies the TV set. While the minimum monthly service rate is modest, there may be additional pay-per-download fees.

Another potential stumbling block is the lengthy download time. It is more or less equivalent to the duration of the program being donwloaded, so viewers might have to wait, say, two hours before they can watch a feature-length movie.

Time will tell whether this innovation will leave Akimbo in limbo, or provide viewers with a web-to-TV nirvana that takes television into the 21st century and beyond.