WB combines DVD, Internet

To get best of Web world, audio, TV

HOLLYWOOD — Warner Bros. Online is blending digital videodisc (DVD) technology with the Internet to overcome the video and audio transmission limitations that have so far been one of the principal obstacles to the creation of interesting computer-based online and interactive entertainment.

WB Online will take advantage of the incredible surge in the number of new personal computers being sold with installed DVD-ROM players to create their first interactive series pilot.

Called “Drive On,” the program is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of movies and TV shows on the Warner Bros. studio lot. It’s slated for launch sometime this fall. Other series, including story-driven episodics, will follow.

Speed and clarity

By linking the DVD discs to their special Web sites, Warners Online will be able to give computer-based audiences entertainment that’s as visually compelling as television, but has all the interactive capabilities provided by the Internet, said James Banister, vice president and general manager of WB Online.

To date, PC-based, online interactive entertainment has been hobbled by one major obstacle: bandwidth — the techie word for the rate at which the data can be delivered to computers on the Net. Most home users have slow 28.8 kilobit-per-second modems. A very few users have the superfast “broadband” connections — at least 1.5 megabits per second — required to deliver TV-like video and audio into the fully interactive world of the Web.

But Warners’ hybrid Web/DVD approach can get around that problem, said Banister, giving users a seamless online experience that combines the storytelling powers of television with the Internet’s electronic commerce and audience chat and other communication abilities.

‘Holy grail’

“Broadband interactive is the holy grail for entertainment companies because you can deliver all of what’s best from television and what’s best from the Web,” said Banister.

According to industry estimates, by the year 2000 there will be 100 million personal computers with DVD-ROM players, and nearly all of them will have the ability to link to the online world.

“At that rate, 18 months from now there will be enough of a mass audience to have a hit show,” said Banister. “Just like in cable TV, just like in broadcast TV, you have to have enough potentially reached homes to make it viable.”