Warner Announces "A New Breed of Entertainment"

At the Digital Living Room conference last week in Laguna Niguel, California, Warner Bros. Online claimed that they have "blended DVD and Internet technology to simultaneously break through the online bandwidth barrier and create a completely new breed of entertainment." Not surprisingly, this DVD/web hybrid technology is called WebDVD.

"Broadband has always been the holy grail for entertainment companies on the Internet," says Jim Banister, VP of Warner Bros. Online. "But broadband online households alone will not be numerous enough to amortize the costs of world-class production for many years. Now we have a way to create broadband entertainment and deliver it to both broadband and narrowband homes. Over the next 18 to 24 months, we can turn this new form of entertainment into a business."

Bandwidth and scalability have been two major problems holding back high-quality, real-time Internet-based entertainment, such as movies-on-demand. While bandwidth issues are trying to be resolved by a variety of media giants with broadband access formats like cable modems and ADSL, market-analysis firm Forrester Research estimates there will be only 17 million broadband and midband households online by 2002. However, there will be 60 million narrowband households online in the same time frame. Entertainment companies claim they need a critical mass of potential viewing households to economically create entertainment programming of the "quality of cable" (over 60 million households) or broadcast television (100 million households).

Web-connected CD or DVD is not a new idea, but according to Warner, "the penetration of DVD-ROM and online access, combined with web-based time-release technology and the massive storage capacity of a DVD, finally makes it economically viable to deliver a broadband experience through a narrowband hybrid delivery system." WebDVD discs will store up to an entire season of "DVD-quality" audio/visual portions of this "broadband" entertainment programming, which are invisibly unlocked on a time-release basis by connecting to a Warner Bros. Online Web site.

"WebDVD is a web-centric entertainment experience" says Banister. "We have 3.2 million folks coming to our Web site every month, and those numbers continue to grow; soon, they'll all have DVD-ROM. When they do, they can have better-than-television audio and video within our original online programming, which is not simply television re-purposed for the Internet. It is a new breed of entertainment blending a passive and active experience with a compelling mix of content, commerce, and community.

"Now the playing field between the Internet and its media siblings can be leveled," Banister continues. "Internet-based programming can finally be held to the same criteria for success as TV and film: good stories."

The first example of WebDVD will arrive in the fall, when Warner Bros. offers Drive-On, described as a "weekly mixture of Hollywood-themed content, community, and commerce, including a 20-minute TV-like segment." Viewers will get a virtual "drive-on" pass to see the inner workings of the studio, featuring interviews with stars and creators of film and television productions. The show will also showcase the work of film directors, special-effects designers, animators, costumers, and "the creative and technical talents who create movie magic on a daily basis."