Hard News by Russell Brown


I went down to the Viaduct this week for Telecom's press launch of its first video on demand trial, under the JetVideo banner.

About 100 lucky trialists in Auckland, Wellington and Taranaki will gain access to a slate of less-than-fresh movies (now playing: Ocean's Eleven) and music videos, delivered over JetStream DSL connections. While you can only applaud any move away from the per-megabyte charging that makes "broadband" in New Zealand such a hazard to the wallet, Telecom's grasp on content still seems a bit wobbly.

Which is of course why it's partnering with Intertainer Asia, which brings both proprietary technology and standing rights arrangements with various movie houses.

The company is linked to the US-based Intertainer Inc, which operated for six years before being cut off at the knees two months ago when, it appears, it was positively sodomised by its erstwhile investor, Sony.

Intertainer is suing Sony, AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal, accusing all three of welching on rights agreements in favour of their own competing service. Sony is further accused of using its access as an Intertainer investor and board member to steal both staff and secrets so it could set up a competing service, Movelink. In the meantime, Intertainer's video portal is a goneburger - the domain name won't even resolve any more.

Tony Manson, Intertainer Asia's senior vice present, was on hand to play down links between his company and Intertainer Inc.

"They're a minority shareholder in Intertainer Asia. We share a part of their name and a very small part of their technology."

Which isn't quite what it says on their website.

The trial will focus on delivering Windows Media streams to PCs (Intertainer's digital rights management system doesn't seem to work on the Mac) but there will be a few TV set-top boxes included. Telecom sees the TV, rather than the PC, as the long-term destination for its service.

Well and good. But why is the content so godawful dull? Post-rental release movies for $7 a pop? And on-demand music videos? Telecom says it needs to address a "mass market", which would be fine if it were television, but it isn't. The moment each punter can pick his or her programming, it becomes niche media, in the same way as the Internet does. As DVD players drop below $200 at retail, will people really want to fork out for slightly dated Hollywood movies at poorer quality? Maybe the cult TV archives, the am-cam and the documentaries will come along, but it'll take a bit more programming vision than is currently evident.

Anyway, here's an interview with Telecom's Rhoda Holmes that I did when the VOD plan was first revealed. Also, a typically thorough look at VOD over phone lines from the Economist and a Red Herring story on the streaming wars.

On entirely another tip, the clubs are getting better. The new Bodega in Wellington is a great space, as is Four Twenty, the new hip-hop venue upstairs at the Rising Sun in K' Road. But Bodega has something Four Twenty just doesn't - air-conditioning. I'm not one to be fussy about environmental smoke, but by the time I tottered in the door from 95bFM's most excellent Christmas party last night I smelled like a big, mobile ashtray.

Hey, Public Address made the Herald and I didn't have to pull any favours or anything.