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RCN Upgrades VOD Systems

RCN Corp. says it will about double its video-on-demand (VOD) content library and deploy a new hi-def VOD product as part of a major video server upgrade that's due for completion in June.

The expansion should sharpen RCN's competitive edge as it battles for customers with the likes of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ).

The server change out, which will affect RCN cable properties in Boston, Chicago, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., will allow the cable operator to offer between 6,000 and 7,000 hours of on-demand content, according to Jason Nealis, the operator's senior director of video operations.

"We're basically replacing our existing VOD servers with next-gen servers," he says, with SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) as the retained vendor.

All of RCN's systems are being outfitted with SeaChange's MediaServer MDS 201, a hybrid memory disk capable of streaming video at 2.8 Gbit/s per rack unit, enough for 744 standard-definition MPEG-2 streams. (See RCN Upgrades VOD.)

Nealis declined to put a dollar figure on RCN's upgrade, but noted that SeaChange gave the operator "a good deal" to upgrade to the new platform, which, like previous systems, uses the vendor's Axiom back office software.

Nealis believes the new server architecture will allow RCN to add storage more easily than with its current SeaChange systems: RCN first worked with SeaChange to launch VOD services in 2003.

HD capabilities are a key focus of the upgrade. RCN, which is already recapturing spectrum to help find room for more linear HD channels via its "Analog Crush" initiative, hopes to offer new movie releases in hi-def via its VOD service as soon as the new servers are operational. (See RCN's 'Analog Crush' .) It's also trying to add to its HD content portfolio by striking new deals with the likes of HBO, Starz, and Showtime.

But the upgrade isn't just about new servers and expanded storage. RCN is also introducing VODlink Portal 4.0, a "video-rich" navigation system from SeaChange that integrates full motion video into on-screen menus and allows for more features and add-ons typically seen in DVDs. RCN hopes the more intuitive and visual navigation platform will translate into increased usage of its VOD services.

Nealis says RCN will tap the new software to create "virtual channels" for HBO, Showtime, and other on-demand services. RCN is introducing the new navigation system in conjunction with the Aptiv 3.0 interactive program guide (IPG), which Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. (Nasdaq: GMST) picked up last year as part of its $16 million acquisition of Aptiv Digital.

Although advanced network-DVR applications such as "Start Over" are on RCN's radar, it's not part of this round of digital video upgrades, according to Nealis. (See Comcast Feels Like Starting Over and TWC 'Starts Over' in HD .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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