Friday, March 31, 2006

Yet another solution to VoD rental

A couple of weeks back, when checking the postal mails, I saw a marketing flyer from a company called moviebeam. It is a new way of delivering movies directly to your home. I thought, probably they use satellite receiver and have enough bandwidth to do VoD. But what surprised me was they use an internal receiver -- that is no need for a dish like in satellite TVs. When I peered closer on the ad, I saw the word 'linksys' on the box! that was a surprise to me; I never knew Cisco was involved in such a VoD rental market.

Anyway later I realized the way it works is that they use some unused PBS broadcast TV signals to continuously send movies. They get stored in a hard-disk like device in the home. You can have some 100 movies always in the disk. You pay for movies that you watch. So in some sense it is not really VoD (Nothing is really 'on demand'), you can't watch whatever you like. But you must choose one from the 100.

In the last few years, since the arrival of Netflix, the video rental business has changed dramatically. Of course it has affected the theater business too. After BBI's arrival, wal-mart's exit, talks of amazon starting the service in US, this rental market has changed so much in the last 5 years. It is all good for the end consumer since netflix/blockbuster online offer some very good deals for the money.

While thinking about this moviebeam's way to getting the movie directly into your home, I got this idea of delivering movies in an yet another way. Note that even though the data networking companies want to send a 100Mbps or 1Gbps fiber to the home and allow VoD to run over IP; it is going to be a while before we have all this connectivity and watch any movie streamed from a server in real-time.

Consider these two ways of delivering stuff to people
1. water, electricity, cable-TV, moviebeam, Netflix, BBI
2. cash (ATM machines), gasoline (gas-stations), groceries (grocery-stores)

The items in 1, come directly into your home. Items in 2 have a large number of distribution centers where people go and fill the stuff periodically. The new VoD rental I thought of falls in 2.

We don't have gasoline flowing from a pipe in our car parking spot. We go and fill it from a nearby shared station. How about doing the same for video? I want to watch this DVD, I go to this ATM like place(let's call it pickup-station) and swipe my membership card. The station instantly burns the DVD and pushes it out. The stations are all connected by high speed data links to backend video servers.

Just like netflix/BBI, I order the movie ahead (say a few hours before) in their website. I also select the nearest DVD pickup-station. The provider transfers the movie to the collection station and it is ready for my pickup. I use a container to transfer the movie physically from the pickup-station to my home. It could be just a rewriteable DVD or some special hard-disk like device capable of holding 5GB or so of the movie data.

The main positives in the approach are exploiting two recent breakthroughs - cost effective high speed data links (>1Gbps) and low cost of rewriteable DVD like media. The infrastructure is needed only on the few select pickup-stations; not in every home like in the direct to home approach. The whole network of pickup-stations and back-end video servers can be extremely automated and thus the labor cost is very minimal. We don't have the shipping cost of today's netflix/BBI online.


At 12:40 PM, Blogger Karthik Gurusamy said...

I was surprised to see someone is already planning on productizing this.. btw it appeared on June 4th 2006 in slashdot


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