WorldGate Communications Inc, a small company with technology that enables cable providers to include internet access through their set-top boxes with no hardware alterations, is about to start its first, albeit modest commercial operation in St Louis, Missouri midway through next month. The company is promising to deliver internet access to the consumer as part […]
WorldGate Communications Inc, a small company with technology that enables cable providers to include internet access through their set-top boxes with no hardware alterations, is about to start its first, albeit modest commercial operation in St Louis, Missouri midway through next month. The company is promising to deliver internet access to the consumer as part of its basic cable offering, so it will not have to pay for an additional set- top box, as is the case with WebTV Networks Inc and NetChannel Inc’s services, and will only pay about $5 for access. Chief executive Hal Krisbergh believes that many cable operators will include that fee as part of the regular bill so the consumer will not even notice. However, that would only happen once enough advertising could be attracted to replace the subscription fees, he said. Krisbergh was speaking at the thinly-attended eTVWorld show in New York City yesterday, where he also told us that having recently completed a private round of funding, the prospect of the company going public is certainly under consideration, with a definite gleam in his eye. This would come as no surprise as stories that the company has been actively gauging the interest in an offering at various trade events have surfaced over the last few months. Along with the St Louis roll-out, which will comprise about 100,000 homes, Krisbergh said the initial roll-out will also begin in Calgary, with about 60,000 homes. The aim is to have about 150,000 subscribers by the year end. This modest projection gives an idea of how ponderous the take-up of TV-based internet services has been over the past few years, as Microsoft Corp could no doubt testify if it would release figures for WebTV subscribers, which are thought to be about 150,000 at the moment. Bensalem, Pennsylvania-based WorldGate’s platform does require a new cable box, either analog or low-end digital using the vertical blanking interval, but it already has General Instrument Corp and Scientific-Atlanta Inc signed up to include its technology in their set-top boxes, and they have more than 90% of the North American cable market sewn up between them. The boxes are not the high-end digital boxes that are currently being readied by cable operators. Krisbergh notes that Microsoft has already said it will look to integrate WebTV into the television set itself. It does seem that trying to get consumers to pay for a separate set-top box for internet access will be a short-term effort. WorldGate is already running trials in Austria, Singapore and Venezuela and will move into China soon, said Krisbergh. He said trials have shown consumers using the service for about eight hours a month in North America, which he says it about the same as HBO’s average usage. WorldGate also announced yesterday the formation of a partnership with Nielsen Media to measure traffic that its Channel Hyperlinking technology generates.