Thomson Invests in Geocast Network Systems

Last week, Thomson multimedia announced a major investment and development partnership with Geocast Network Systems, in an alliance that the company claims is intended to deploy a comprehensive terrestrial broadcast-based digital television datacasting system and service to millions of homes from coast to coast. Thomson says it is making a $15 million investment in Geocast Network Systems, and that "the result will be seamless, high-quality playback of rich-media content at a moment's notice from home entertainment and information devices."

To facilitate the new system, Geocast states that it is creating a national broadcast network that will use local broadcasters' digital TV spectra to send customized "rich-media" entertainment and information to personal computers without the need for hardwired connections or service fees. The service will be advertiser-supported and free to the consumer—much like broadcast television itself, said Geocast.

While the first product offered will be an attachment for the home PC, Thomson's investment in Geocast signals its intention to develop the technology to be a key capability of future digital television products. The first product resulting from the Thomson/Geocast alliance will be an affordable, advanced, RCA-branded Geocast digital receiver that will come equipped with a hard-disk drive, digital TV tuners, and links to the computer via a standardized connection. Local broadcasters and national content providers will furnish their own programming to create a local and national service from Geocast. The receiver will be sold at retail stores and through the website.

The companies say that, "consistent with the flexible use of digital television spectrum endorsed by Congress and the FCC, the combined work of Thomson and Geocast will create a datacasting service and product that utilizes the new digital TV channels to send content from local broadcasters. Within the framework of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) over-the-air digital TV standard, itself developed through a decade of industry research and cooperation, Geocast will help broadcasters maximize their digital television spectrum investments."

Geocast CEO Joe Horowitz points out that, "in the PC world, the Internet has dramatically changed our economy and personal lives, but its point-to-point architecture was never designed to deliver rich-media content to a mass audience. Geocast will change that. With the involvement of Thomson's digital expertise and RCA brand strength, we can move beyond the Internet to make personalized information and entertainment programming with full-motion video and CD-quality sound instantly available to PC users and, potentially, digital TV receivers."

Thomson's James E. Meyer adds that "Thomson's investment in Geocast is one more step in the process of building a comprehensive new wireless digital data broadcasting service in the United States that will offer rich content initially for the PC, and soon for other home-based digital devices, including digital TV sets and emerging information appliances."