March 19, 2004 12:46 PM PST

Akimbo seeks obscure entertainment du jour

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Ever have a desire to watch first-run movies from Nigeria, videos on fishing for Walleye Pike or see someone deliver the nightly news while naked? Akimbo might be for you.

The San Mateo, Calif.-based start-up will launch a set-top box and subscription service in May that will offer a chance for home viewers to obtain programs and entertainment that they otherwise might not see on cable TV channels or networks.

The programming, for instance, will include short films that have been nominated for awards at the Cannes Film Festival or the Oscars; features from the Billiard Club Network; music videos from India; extreme sports documentaries; and the Naked News, described as "the first Internet news program to present the news with nude newscasters, delivering international, national, sports and entertainment news together with health and fitness, movie reviews and in-the-street interviews."

In addition, Akimbo expects to deliver first-run films on a pay-per-view basis from studios such as Lions Gate Films, which made the recently released film "The Cooler." Akimbo CEO Josh Goldman and other company executives previously worked at MySimon, a shopping site owned by CNET Networks, publisher of News.com.

The idea behind Akimbo is to create a TiVo-like service that doesn't have to rely on the programming from media conglomerates, said Steve Shannon, the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing and an alumni of ReplayTV.

TiVo's digital video recorder (DVR) and similar devices harvest materials carried by active broadcasters. In contrast, Akimbo licenses content directly from entertainment producers. The material is then archived on Akimbo's back-end storage systems and pushed to subscribers over the company's servers via a broadband connection.

"This involves downloads from the Internet rather than broadcast," Shannon said.

Like TiVo, the company tracks a viewer's personal preferences and then regularly sends videos or movies that seem to fit the subscriber's interests.

But getting Americans to buy a set-top box for entertainment that could be considered "less-than-premium content" could be a tough sell, said NPD Intelect analyst Stephen Baker.

Then again, Akimbo executives and others assert that there is huge demand for movies and entertainment not found on ordinary networks. Video is sprouting all across the Internet, but the ability to find it or distribute it is limited, according to broadband executives. Other DVR specialists are looking at ways to harvest this content.

Meanwhile, media companies are working on ways to better leverage the Internet as a distribution medium. Revelations Entertainment, actor Morgan Freeman's production company, said that in 2005 it will release a movie onto the Internet on the same day it comes out in theaters. The company is currently trying to figure out pricing and some of the security issues, said Revelations CEO Lori McCreary.

The Akimbo box will cost $200 and will come with a Celeron processor and an 80GB hard drive that will hold about 200 hours of video. Subscribers also will have to pay a $10 subscription fee for the basic channels. Additional fees will likely apply to see first-run films, Shannon said.

The company is currently setting up server banks for its service in the United States. The service likely will be offered to people in the Midwest and West Coast first.

 

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