Qwest aims for clearer digital video

(REUTERS) -- Telephone and data services company Qwest Communications International Inc. aims to make its promise of transmitting "every movie ever made in every language, anytime" more than just an advertising slogan.

Qwest Digital Media, a unit launched in September, uses the company's high-speed communications network to transmit broadcast-quality video to corporations. In time, it may broadcast movies or programming to consumers' television sets or the neighborhood movie theater.

"Clear video can be done. We're making sure we have the network capability so customers aren't going to see that kind of herky-jerky presentation -- or one where the audio drops out every seven seconds -- that they might have seen in the past," Qwest Digital Media Chief Executive David Woodrow said in a recent telephone interview.

Qwest Digital Media concentrates on providing video production, Webcasting, and video on-demand to corporations and broadcast networks.

The company also sees potential in the emerging markets for high-definition television and digital cinema -- the digitization, storage and distribution of films. Industry analysts peg the market for digital cinema storage and distribution at about $7 billion by 2005.


The reality of providing "every movie ever made" on demand may be still be far off since most homes don't have direct access to high-speed broadband networks or the powerful computers and modems needed to easily view streaming media.

As local telephone and data companies expand their networks to bring broadband networks closer to consumers' homes, digital video would become more viable.

Consumers could watch movies or special programming on demand over television sets fed by high-speed networks. Local movie theaters could use broadband connections, rather than giant reels of film, to broadcast feature films.

Qwest, along with Cisco Systems Inc.'s and Twentieth Century Fox, last summer conducted the world's first digital screening of a major motion picture, "Titan A.E."

It could take another five years before neighborhood movie theaters move away from film reels to broadband networks, Woodrow said.

"The theater screen industry is clearly having their own challenges today, and part of it is the economics of how they run their business," Woodrow said.

"If they can cut their distribution costs -- that allows them to be much more flexible and lower their cost structure. We'll have to wait for the screen industry to stabilize and then put the capital in for theaters to be digitally enabled," Woodrow said.

Movie theaters would need direct broadband connections and new projection systems. Movie directors and producers also have to endorse a new digital medium rather than celluloid film.

"You have to deal with legacy technology and people who have to produce it. Directors and cinematographers happen to like the technology they've been using for 100 years. It's like a true audiophile arguing for vinyl over a CD," Woodrow said.


Qwest Digital Media expects to be profitable by the end of 2001. Woodrow declined to disclose Qwest Digital Media's revenues, but said the unit had the "potential to double or triple each year for several years."

Most of that growth will be driven by the strong demand among corporations for video services. Industry analysts expect the market for WWebcasting and video-on-demand services alone to reach $11 billion by 2005.

"We're focused on the business-to-business world ... we're going to focus on people who have real applications and real money who we can serve," Woodrow said.

High-speed, clear connections could help corporations transmit investor conferences over the Internet, train employees in far-flung locations, or provide customer service or product information to their clients, the company said.

Qwest Digital Media competes against small boutique firms that provide video production services, as well as larger "rich media" companies such as Akamai Technologies Inc. , Digital Island Inc. , and Web-hosting providers like Digex Inc. and Genuity Inc.

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This story, "Qwest aims for clearer digital video" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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