When Bucknell University officials realized that the Napster music file-trading service last year accounted for 40 percent of the university's Internet traffic, they knew something had to be done. And they did something, shutting off the service to university students in February.
Then Michael Weaver, systems integrator of Bucknell's computer centre, went on the hunt for an alternative service to appease what certainly would be a backlash from students. He didn't have to look further than a college newsletter, which featured ex-student Jeff Boulter, a senior director of product development at Internet music site Launch Media.
Weaver contacted Boulter and signed the university up for Launch.com's Launch College Direct program. The product gives users access to Launch.com's music and video content while offloading the network congestion to an infrastructure run by iBeam Broadcasting.
IBeam broadcasts content via satellite and stores it on servers near the customer. Users -- in this case university students -- can then stream content from the servers. Because the content is on a local computer, the degradation of streaming is reduced, improving the overall quality and experience.
"The Internet is not built for streaming from point to point, and our solution improves on the experience by making it local," said Thomas Gillis, vice president of marketing at iBeam.
The company installed a satellite dish and server on Bucknell's campus. The university only had to provide racks for the server and some space.
In addition to congestion relief, the other appealing aspect of the service was that it sidestepped legal snafus that have ensnared Napster, Weaver said. Since no downloading or storing of files is allowed in the system, the service avoids issues over unauthorised copies.
"We're essentially an Internet radio station because users are just streaming content from us," said Dave Goldberg, chief executive of Launch.com.
"That users can't upload files to the servers will be a significant feature of the service. Distribution management is obviously important given the issues surrounding Napster," said PJ McNealy, senior analyst at Dataquest. "And from a user standpoint, it will come down to content."
Launch.com has licensing agreements for on-demand videos with EMI Music, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and independent labels amassing over 5,000 videos.
Users also have access to about 70,000 song titles.
Howard Dykovsky, vice president of operations at PC Data, agreed with McNealy while saying that Napster's popularity would not be significantly damaged.
"Napster doesn't disappear from Bucknell's campus because of this. But this service should mitigate congestion if the content is there for users," said Dykovsky.
"There's been no major investment on our part, so anything we gain, from a traffic relief standpoint, is a bonus," said Weaver.
For Launch.com, the college program is a play to extend its brand and distribution, said Goldberg, providing a larger potential audience for Launch.com advertisers.
The company has commerce partners who will sell albums and digital downloads to users, of which Launch.com will get a cut.
Georgia Tech has also expressed an interest in the program, and Goldberg expects that 30 to 50 schools will be signed up by the end of the year.
Other solutions, such as MP3.com's recently announced subscription services, are available, but they don't relieve the network congestion issues for colleges.
MP3.com has licensing agreements with Warner Music Group and BMG Entertainment; it has yet to settle with Universal Music Group, EMI Recorded Music and Sony Music.
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