WebHopper, Meet iBlast

WebHopper, Clear Channel’s foray into datacasting via digital television, is apparently not the only system under development by media companies pursuing the digital convergence gold rush.
iBlast, a DTV datacasting system cooperatively developed and funded by a consortium of several big media firms (including the Tribune Company, Gannett Company, Cox Broadcasting, The Washington Post Company, The McGraw-Hill Companies, The New York Times, Emmis Communications, Bonneville International, and Journal Broadcast Group, among many others), has been in the testing stage for the last 18 months in more than a half-dozen markets around the country. iBlast’s management boasts of extensive experience with other media conglomerates like News Corp., Viacom, Disney, and Sony being among the most notable.
The iBlast technology is similar – but not identical – to the WebHopper datacasting model: while it also requires a traditional modem uplink to the iBlast network for sending data requests, downloads happen via a special receiver plugged into a computer, digital video recorder, game console or MP3 player.
Whereas WebHopper promises specific download speeds for each customer, iBlast appears not to divide the DTV sideband used for datacasting into customer-specific channels. The iBlast website says each DTV station can send a maximum of 75 gigabytes of data per day, presumably queuing content for broadcast when bandwidth is available to send it (depending on traffic load).
It also predicts that most major markets will have at least two iBlast-equipped stations available, providing the capacity to serve up the equivalent of several thousand DVDs’ worth of data every day to subscribers.
Collectively, the consortium backing iBlast already owns more than 260 television stations, providing a much larger initial platform for the technology than Clear Channel’s 30-odd stations. However, because iBlast doesn’t seem to offer dedicated bandwidth to individual customers, it’s being marketed more as a content delivery service than an internet service provider.
Think of being able to buy movies, music and software on demand via the DTV signal, but not quite being able to surf the ‘net with it. Or, like a wireless extension of pay-per-view, with pay-per-listen and pay-per-play added in for the ride. How much a monthly subscription will cost is unclear, but look for a national rollout of iBlast sometime next year.