Web delivery for Kiwi music

A company formed earlier this year to take New Zealand music content to the world on the web is rapidly expanding into digital delivery across a range of disciplines.

A company formed earlier this year to take New Zealand music content to the world on the web is rapidly expanding into digital delivery across a range of disciplines.

Video Technologies is negotiating with educational institutions to deliver e-learning courses and is also in discussion with sports bodies and marketing organisations. As well as promoting New Zealand music, it has plans to deliver streaming video from live concerts and other events.

The company is a joint venture between longtime IT and music industry identity Chris O’Shea, a principal of distributor Observatory Crest; Grenville Lee, who recently returned to New Zealand after 20 years in telecommunications in France; and Liz Dengate Thrush of Akamai.

It also has an unlikely connection to Rolling Stones bass player Bill Wyman.

In 1977 Lee set up a company in the UK called MP3. He’d become friendly over the years with Wyman, who has a home in France, and saw the web as the future way of music delivery.

“Bill came on board as a director and he and his old music mates from bands like Procul Harum gave us all their old songs to put up on the site. We came up with an MP3 player, which we marketed as the Bill Wyman player.” It was the first MP3 portable player with removable memory.

“However, we ran up against the brick wall of [music distributor] EMI, who wouldn’t release other material, so we developed a different distribution system to provide new songs. There’s a lot of other digital material out there that is much less constrained by rights issues.”

Lee, originally from Christchurch, returned to New Zealand late last year for lifestyle reasons, after living for a while on a houseboat in London, and teamed up with O’Shea, who had been working on developing a web delivery system for New Zealand music. O’Shea manages several local bands and in a former life was a road manager for Blondie.

The result was a plan to put New Zealand music content on the MP3 site in the UK, with payment possible via a billing engine currently being trialled in New Zealand.

Lee realised that there was much broader opportunity to serve up content online, and formed a company called Talking Books, which delivers content through British Telecom. He also has a deal with the BBC, for whom he has developed a kiosk which will deliver, on payment, anything from music to Winston Churchill’s speeches.

“The UK market for audio books on cassettes and CDs is 95 million pounds a year,” he says.

Talking Books acquired a catalogue of titles and converted all the content to MP3 format.

“I spent 18 months trying to find a successful business model,” Lee says. “We were then appointed by British Telecom to be part of its payment gathering trial. Customers can purchase via credit card or have the charges allocated to their BT bill.”

In 2002 Lee obtained the rights to Home Choice video-on-demand, which he presented to Telecom New Zealand. “But it didn’t stand up in the smaller market on the grounds of scalability.”

He returned to London and signed up the Australasian exclusive rights for Envivio, an MP4 product developed by France Telecom, Philips, Intel and Bertelsmen.

“It’s based on Apple technology and a lot of the subsets are particularly suitable for e-learning,” Lee says. “The layered technology gives bi-directional audio and video streams.” He says it’s being used by the Harvard Medical School, SAP Education and Citibank.

The plan is to combine the payment engine with Envivio digital delivery, which he describes as “a very powerful solution” for any content provider. It will also integrate Powerpoint and Excel easily, with no latency.

That’s excited the interest of polytechnics and other educational institutions, which see it as a way of delivering — and selling — e-learning courses to the world. Lee and O’Shea won’t name names at the moment because of contract negotiations but expect signings within the next few weeks. Some national sports bodies are also said to be interested in delivering their content to a broader stage.

Akamai will be used for global delivery, as its algorithms enable an educational course to be delivered to a country with little broadband and make it look like local dial-up.

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