Hey, videomakers–if you’re looking to see your work distributed on a large scale, keep your LCDs tightly
focused on four developing distribution methods. They may turn out to be more open to carrying your
programs than are the cable companies, Hollywood and even video stores.
Ready? They are the Internet, cellular television, wireless cable (also known as Multipoint
Distribution Systems or “MDS”) and Personal Communication Services (PCS)/cellular systems.
These distributors, apart from PCS at the moment, are looking to deliver a lot of video. Though
they’re in their infancy and aren’t quite ripe for the independent producer’s picking, they are growing and
will likely need programming. That’s a calling card for videomakers like you.
Video in Cyberspace
The Internet is an open access place–that’s one of its joys. Anyone with a computer and a modem can
instantly gain access to piles of information, or can even publish their own. The Internet gives a voice to
the greater public. This sounds like the kind of forum that independent producers want.
Before cyberspace fully answers the “common carriage” dream, it must master video delivery. The
first type of online video left users waiting up to 30 minutes to download a minute of video, and earned the
name “store and forward.” It also lagged, delivering about one frame every five seconds (fps) at best.
Online video has improved just slightly. The problem is still the data bottleneck that occurs as
video files, which are extremely large, try to squeeze through the complex set of narrow
information pathways that make up the Internet. Non-video data doesn’t generally have this problem, as
the files are small enough that server can send them out in chunks and quickly reassemble the parts.
The Internet needs affordable high-capacity connections across the board, which many companies
are racing to offer. Researchers are also looking at software to speed up service. For now, they compress
video files to accommodate narrow “pipes” and offer low-quality real-time video, live video broadcasts and
video conferencing. Other folks are also coming up with some ingenious uses for the technologies.
Desktop Video Broadcasting
To create video programming on the Net, videomakers shoud start with good online software.
VDOnet, a Santa Clara, California-based company, has developed software called VDOLive that brings
video to Internet users in real time.
VDOnet hopes this software will lead to a new industry it calls desktop video broadcasting. “It
would consist of large producers, broadcasters, advertisers, small businesses, special interest groups and
individuals,” said Abegail Johnson, spokesperson for VDOnet.
Videomakers will find plenty of business in Cyberspace if markets develop as VDOnet envisions:
Internet broadcasts of town meetings, college sports, and video tours of resorts, hotels and homes for
VDOLive gets past the Net’s narrow bandwidth with a proprietary compression system that
squeezes video files. It allows the quality of the video to improve with the size and quality of the receiver’s
connection. VDOLive delivers between 10 and 15 frames per second over 28.8kbps modems, and fewer
with a 14.4kbps modem. The VDOLive technology also uses a communication protocol that maintains the
integrity of the video as it travels online. VDOLive can accomplish real time video because it reassembles
the frames in their proper sequence before it arrives to the receiver.
Net surfers can download VDOLive for free at its web site (http://www/vdolive.com). The site
lists the computer requirements and directions for downloading, and has other interesting features. (As web
sites change often, the software may not be available for downloading by the time you read this.)
Another company bringing video to the Internet is Xing Technology. Based in Arroyo Grande,
California, Xing created a live, on-demand Internet broadcasting software called Streamworks.
Streamworks boasts a full scaleable quality range depending on the Internet connection. With a
28.8kbps modem, users can view one to two frames per second of video and hear audio at FM radio
quality. With a 14.4kbps modem, the speed slows to one frame every one to two seconds.
Last October, Streamworks broadcast the first ISDN live and continuous video and audio
broadcast on the Internet. By selecting “Pope TV” on the Internet’s Catholic Information Center (CICI),
surfers could watch and listen to the pontiff during his visit to the East Coast, and tune into event
Xing Technology president Howard Gordon said programming is an important, growing aspect to
the software. NBC and Reuters use it to broadcast financial news worldwide. Programming will likely
expand to sports, distance learning, entertainment and advertising, he said.
Gordon believes the trend of the Internet is moving towards radio and television. “The technology
will give people access to an alternate distribution channel,” he said. “It really does enable the creation of
low cost production.”
To access audio and video using Streamworks and to download the software, visit Xing
Technology’s web site (http://www.xingtech.com).
One Man’s Creation
Noel Moore, of Greenbush Electronic Cottage in Ontario, has created a technique to create low-cost
TV and Web productions through a creative mix of media. He combines video conferencing, the Internet,
video and editing equipment and TV.
This idea was born out of his 1993 experiment, when a non-profit group asked him to create a
video about drugs and kids around the world. The group wanted to use a satellite broadcast, but couldn’t
afford it. As an alternative, Moore used AT& T video conferencing sites in four countries where he
sent Betacam tapes. (Moore later adapted this technique by replacing the AT& T system with the
Moore used the AT& T system to permit participants to interact, while the camera captured
the action on Betacam tape. The setup allowed him to talk to the kids and direct camera angles. After the
conference, Moore had the tapes sent to him through express mail, and edited the recordings into a 90-
minute broadcast-quality production.
Later, he used the computer files to broadcast an online show, and the edited video tape for a
simultaneous TV broadcast.
Moore is currently producing a half-hour weekly program of this nature for a television station
and Web site based in Kingston, Ontario. Called the Home Office Business Online (Hobo) Show, the
endeavor is scheduled to begin in March. (For more info, check out
Fixed Cellular Television
Local Multipoint Distribution System (LMDS), also known as Cellular TV, provides wireless
distribution of an array of telecommunications services. It’s a fixed cellular system that uses low-power
antennas to transmit video and other data within a small range.
The video programming is delivered from a satellite to a head-end station, and then it’s re-
broadcast using an omnidirectional transmitter. Subscribers can receive the signals from six square-inch
antennas mounted outside and sometimes inside their homes. From this antenna, the signal travels to a TV
set-top box and into the television set.
In 1991, CellularVision, based in New York, became the first company in the United States to
offer LMDS commercially. It also developed and patented its technology. It describes its technology as a
“broadband, bi-directional equivalent to fiber optic in the air.”
As of 1991, CellularVision has used its FCC-granted license to deliver 49 video channels in the
Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, N.Y. It also began serving 17 countries outside the USA.
Independent producers may be able to take advantage of cellular’s super-localized programming.
It can transmit separate programming within each cell’s range, which can be as small as three miles. For
example, a large Russian community in Brooklyn called “Little Odessa” receives Russian programming;
three miles away, in an adjacent cell, the channel line up includes Latino, African American and Asian
This handy ability may create a demand for a multitude of programming that independent video
producers can create and sell to the operators, who are the content decision makers, Hart acknowledged.
“As we create more and more cells there certainly would be a market for other programming,”
Hart said. “How that procedure is going to unfold hasn’t been determined yet,” he said. Currently operators
draw content from national satellite and cable networks, and supplement it with pay-per-view and home
Another key for independent producers may be the expansion of both CellularVision and LMDS
in general. CellularVision is hoping to roll out services this year to nearly 500 markets across the United
States, which will create a need for more programming.
This depends upon an FCC ruling slated for late February 1996 that will establish and recognize
LMDS (the ruling had not occurred at the time of publication.) Soon after the ruling, other parties
interested in providing LMDS can take part in an FCC auction to license off the spectrum. Keep your eyes
on LMDS. You can expect to hear a lot more about it in the next year. Someday, it may turn into a great
distribution channel for your videos.
Cable, Sans Wire
Wireless Cable, also known as Multipoint Distribution System (MDS), is a service that delivers video
programming to subscribers’ homes via microwave frequencies, rather than hardwire. Established in 1973,
MDS was originally designed to provide “cable” shows to areas outside the wired cable’s reach.
Today, competition is building between MDS and cable because phone companies have entered
the business of providing cable services and have begun buying wireless cable systems. Tele-TV Systems,
a joint venture of Bell Atlantic, Nynex and Pacific Group, alone has spend hundreds of millions of dollars
buying systems in the wireless cable industry.
What chance does a video producer have in all this? Wireless Cable channel capacity cannot
currently support open access, said Andrew Kreig of the Wireless Cable Association located in Washington
D.C. It has 33 channels, with 13 reserved for commercial use, and 20 set aside for educational and cultural
programming. The latter channels are Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS). Many operators didn’t
even have the capacity to carry Court TV during the height of popularity of the O.J. Simpson trial.
However, a digital compression technology is expected to increase wireless cable channels to 100
or 120. Tele-TV Systems said it will buy the digital set-top boxes and begin distribution within the year.
Distribution will occur over several years.
“With 100 channels there is more opportunity to get your show on the air. I know that (operators)
are going to need programming.” However, Kreig noted “some big players are talking about using 30 or 40
of the extra channels for pay-per-view.”
John Schwartz, the president of Instructional Telecommunications Foundations, an ITFS operator,
said, “More channels are better than fewer channels, but you will have to deal with a gatekeeper, probably
a national gatekeeper, and talk your way on.” That means convincing the same national networks that
independent producers face with wired cable TV, he said.
Kreig is a smidgen more optimistic. “We’re an emerging industry, so we have sympathy with
people who have a good product. But we’re still in a business that wants to give people what they want. We
have to be professional.”
Spectrums of Cellular Services
Personal Communication Systems (PCS) and cellular network services are competing industries that
currently have similar services. Both use small, lightweight portable phones and other mobile devices for
one- or two-way data and voice transmission. The systems can receive pages, e-mail, voice mail, faxes or
phone calls and perform other related services.
The biggest difference between PCS and other cellular services is that PCS is 100 percent digital
instead of partially digital, says Russell Wilkerson, manager of external affairs at SprintSpectrum. This
increases the capacity, clarity, an increase of services and a cheaper rate, he said. Video is not currently a
PCS service, however. “Video requires a tremendous amount of capacity. It is potentially a long term
goal,” said Wilkerson. “We’re not quite looking there yet.”
Video applications in PCS are not totally out of the picture. Legally, PCS can offer video and even
broadcast it if it’s mobile, said Darren Kendrick of the FCC. Good video will require a wide bandwidth,
something that the future will hold for cellular/PCS industries, according to Michael Houghton,
spokesperson for CTIA.
PCS and cellular insiders talk about video in terms of telemedicine and security systems. It could
provide, for example, a two-way visual and audio link between hospital and EMT or police station and
officer in the field.
Air Communications, a cellular company in California, offers a product that can be made to send
video, said Kevin Surace, vice president and co-founder. The AirCommunicator cellular phone sends and
receives faxes, voice, mail, photos and audio. Hooked up to a small digital camera and a computer, it can
record and send the data to a server.
This service has a small market, he said, but TV stations and amateurs use it. The narrow
bandwidth means a slow video speed–about five to 10 frames per second, he said, but cellular video can
take the news media to areas where large microwave vans cannot go.
Your Chance at Distribution
Video is now going through the air, in cyberspace and over phone and cable lines. With so many
choices, at least one should have common carrier opportunities in the future. With these great technological
changes poised to change the world of distribution, viewers will expect more choice in programming–not
You can see that they get it.