TransACT heralds 'true Video on Demand'

Canberra telco TransACT will this week bolster Australia's first Video on Demand (VOD) service, which will give its 13,000 pay TV subscribers access to a wide range of new releases and back-catalogue Hollywood movie titles.

TransACT has partnered with content aggregator Anytime, which has rights to content from Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and Universal Pictures. Anytime claims it has the largest single content offering available to the Asian region, with 20,000 titles.

"Our partnership with Anytime heralds a new era in home entertainment," said TransACT General Manager Retail Ivan Slavich.

"True interactive movies on demand will revolutionise the home entertainment industry over the next decade and TransACT customers are the first to experience it in Australia across a fibre-optic network," he said.

Before the new partnership, TransACT offered its customers a selection of 300 titles from partner VOD. With a soft launch this week, customers will have access to an additional 100 titles, most of which are new releases.

TransACT content manager Ben Kinealy said there would be another 350 to 500 titles available with the major roll-out and marketing campaign in March. This selection will be regularly rotated from Anytime's bank of 20,000 titles.

"This will see us having 70 per cent of new release material you will find on the shelves at video stores, only it will be available in real time from your lounge room," he said.

True VOD, where consumers can immediately access content and watch it at any time, usually through a set top box, has been slow to take off in Australia.

A Point Topic report last year estimated there to be more than 230,000 DSL and fibre subscribers with access to true VOD and predicted the number to reach over one million by May this year. However, until recently, VOD providers have had to use mainly older titles, as Hollywood studios had been reluctant to sell to a new medium that may threaten their control over current distribution channels.

According to the report, a 1.5MB connection is needed for true VOD, however much faster bandwidth is desirable. With a recent IDC report revealing that 70 per cent of Australian broadband connections are still only 256Kbps, VOD could still be a while away for those Australians outside Canberra.

However, Telstra BigPond has announced a movie download service to be launched before June.

"This will be a 'download to PC' service, as distinct from video streaming, which will deliver far higher quality for the customer. Initially we intend to launch with a select range of content and this will build up as the service progresses, ultimately offering a range of movie and video content," said Telstra Spokesperson Craig Middleton.

Movies in this form could be available overnight or in up to two days, depending on bandwidth and connection.

Optus is also investigating Video On Demand options but has no fixed plan at the moment, according to a spokesperson.

The Optus HFC network was fully digitised as part of an iTV trial two years ago, so it is already capable of supporting digital streaming.

"(Even though) video continues to steal the headlines, meat and potato applications like news, weather, e-mail, search, IM, photos, and music are still monopolising usage," she said.

VideoEzy CIO James Huckerby said that rather than VOD being a challenge to the Video/DVD rental business it is an opportunity.

"We are in a great position to offer VOD services. We have a customer base of several million already and we know what their tastes are," he said.

"We are currently in negotiation with a number of potential partners through which we plan to deliver a VOD service," Huckerby said but declined to give any time-frame for doing so.

TransACT currently delivers its VOD service over a "fibre to base" system, or VDSL over ATM.

"We currently use ADSL for data and telephony and are working towards delivering video over ADSL because it is so much cheaper to deploy," Kinealy said.

"When this happens we will be able to extend our geographical subscriber base to not only cover 100 per cent of the ACT but also to extend over into NSW."

At the moment TransACT customers will pay $6.50 per day for new releases and $4 for "library content".

"But we are looking to develop a subscription 'all you can eat' pricing model when we roll out the offer in March," Kinealy said.

Click here to see what the TransACT user interface looks like.

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