Bell to open interactive video center

March 31, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

Proclaiming itself delighted with the results of a test of the technology for providing movies on demand by phone, Bell Atlantic Corp. said yesterday that it will open a multimillion-dollar Digital Production Center in Reston, Va., to support its plans to offer interactive video programming.

The company said the center, which it touted as the first of its kind, would bring together in one location everything needed to prepare video programming for distribution over the phone lines and to send it throughout its service region.

The move is a further sign of the company's seriousness about video on demand as the first step toward a "full-service" interactive network. Even more than with its aborted merger with Tele-Communications Inc., the Philadelphia-based phone company has staked its future on the success of its video ventures.

"We believe this market will mature much more quickly than conventional wisdom says it will," said Stuart Johnson, Bell Atlantic's group president for video services. He said the results of a technical test among Bell Atlantic employees in Northern Virginia showed stronger usage than expected.

Bell Atlantic is planning to begin a market test of the Stargazer video service in Northern Virginia in late summer. It is planning to roll out the service on a commercial basis in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County late this year or early in 1995, Mr. Johnson said. The company has previously predicted that Stargazer would come to Baltimore sometime next year.

In a telephone news conference yesterday, Bell Atlantic executives also clarified some key questions consumers will have about its Stargazer video service:

* Viewers will pay a flat fee to see a film, with no per-minute $$ charge.

* Customers will be able to "pause" the program the way they do now with a VCR.

* It's possible that callers might get a busy signal on the two or three busiest days of the year, but unlike existing video rental chains, Stargazer will be able to supply unlimited copies of the hottest new releases. "If you can get through to it, it's never out of stock," said Bell Atlantic spokesman Larry Plumb.

* The Stargazer "search" function will allow customers to find films by title, genre, actor, studio and perhaps other categories.

The Reston center, which will employ an estimated 100 Bell Atlantic Video Services workers and 50 to 90 subcontractors' employees when it goes into full operation in July, will have enough capacity for a staff of 350, the company said.

Mr. Johnson said the suburban Washington location was chosen because of its proximity to the main subcontractors for the Stargazer project.

The Reston center will include a digital production studio, which will help develop software, graphics and promotional elements.

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