Video on demand coming from NTL, Telewest

Two firms reveal details of their digital-video plans.

UK telecommunications company NTL has announced that it will start to roll out Video On Demand (VOD) services over its cable network by mid-2000.

NTL has signed an agreement to use US company DIVA's VOD service, currently deployed in six US cable systems. Initially the service will be delivered to digital set-top boxes over NTL's national cable network. NTL will be able to offer its customers immediate delivery of films, at speeds of around 4Mbit/s. This is double the speed at which video could be delivered over ADSL, and gives a level of sound and picture quality that makes VOD a viable proposition. Customers with the VOD service will have access to features including pause, fast-forward and rewind.

The service will be delivered to subscriber's set top boxes, without the need for any hardware upgrades or specialist installation. VOD will replace NVOD (Near Video On Demand), which at present provides customers with the choice of ordering around 10 films every 15 minutes. "This is the next logical step for the best use of our bandwidth," said an NTL spokesman. "It marks an interesting change in that the whole notion of scheduled television is under threat."

The trial initially deploys in the Surrey and Hampshire regions and will quickly be rolled out to the rest of the country.

Telewest Communications announced today that it is also to deploy VOD services by the first quarter of next year, and unveiled plans for its future broadband services. Telewest's trial will take place in two of the company's five regions, and will be offered to 20,000 households. Technology for the trial will be provided by SeaChange International and nCUBE. Customers will be able to choose from 1000 hours of films.

Telewest's broadband digital television service will commence in November and will initially be available to half of the four million homes in the company's regions, reaching ninety percent coverage by the first half of 2000. Coinciding with the roll out of VOD services will be the launch of Telewest's high speed Internet access service.

Cable & Wireless is holding back on its VOD plans, preferring to concentrate on developing its range of interactive television services, until sometime next year. The company is rolling out its full interactive service in the northwest and London next month. "For Telewest VOD is the best way to get a foothold in digital television," said Martin Graham-Scott, head of broadcast for Cable & Wireless, though VOD "is a slightly primitive way of doing it".

"We believe that digital television is all about transforming the medium, rather than just adding more of the same," said Graham-Scott. "What customers most want now is interactive services such as email."