In Hollywood, ya gotta have connections now more than ever. And I don't mean the kind you can make at Spago, or the Peninsula.

I'm talking digital connections.

The vibrancy, maybe even the survival, of the entertainment industry rests on moving digital content around the world quickly, seamlessly.

Nationally and internationally, studios, producers and post-production companies now use a range of wired and wireless communication modes to deliver the goods to an audience. Everywhere, people are gobbling up dynamic entertainment.

It's nothing less than the birth of an entire industry of digital content creation and distribution, with L.A. at the center of explosive growth.

Think about the production schedule in the Hollywood of 1980. There were 161 movies produced that year, a slate of shows for the networks, and a small number of programs for syndication. In 1996, 240 pictures were released by members of the Motion Picture Association of America, and there were hundreds of TV shows made for all kinds of markets. New distribution technologies are key to that increased production.

Since the 1970s, Hollywood has seen the rise of cable networks and home video markets, both voracious consumers of content. Now, it's the Internet and broadband networks fueling industry expansion.

Everybody knows what the Web is (even my 82-year-old, next-door neighbor, who calls it that newfangled thing that's creating all those gazillionaires and where kids learn how to make atom bombs while molesters stalk them). But not everybody knows what broadband is because less than 10 percent of the population now subscribes to the service. Broadband refers to high-speed Internet access over telephone and cable networks. When it comes via phone lines, it's called DSL (digital subscriber lines). Over cable, it's simple "cable modem service."

These networks can carry a lot of information compared to telephone lines, but broadband via cable is nowhere near as capacious as over-the-air broadcast TV channels.

Broadband service is really designed to bring video to personal computers, rather than TVs, so video via computer looks pretty good, unless the Internet is congested. If the Internet is jammed up, of course, both audio and video get all jerky and weird, unlistenable and unwatchable. But with broadband, that herky-jerky content delivery is minimized. As new technology continues to emerge, the quality of online content delivery systems will improve dramatically, and that is one of the primary reasons that the production of content is booming.

One entity participating in the boom is Excite@Home, a cable modem service provider that acquires material for its customers. It has continued its agreement with Universal Worldwide Television to relaunch, the companion site for the television show "Blind Date." It will feature more video from the TV show while adding co-branded (Excite and "Blind Date") services, like Blue Mountain ( digital card-sending, horoscopes and even a date planner.

Think blind dates are silly? Think again. It's big business. The site attracted 16,000 unique visitors during its first year visitors who hung around to call up more than 400,000 page views, according to Excite@Home officials. This partnership demonstrates the way Los-Angeles-based production entities are going digitally mainstream. It's content convergence, material that moves across three infrastructures a TV show linked to the Internet to offer interactive activities and services while targeting broadband customers.

Until now, the cable TV industry has had the online content arena all to itself. Telcos have also had to focus on technical issues before they could roll out video to a mass market. Now, many people who live in Pacific Bell and Verizon Communications territories can get DSL for as little as $40 a month.

As the prerequisite technology is becoming less of a problem, telcos are turning their attention to content, according to a new study by telecom market research firm In-Stat.

Gerry Kaufhold, an analyst for the Multimedia Broadband Services unit of In-Stat, said telcos want to bring video to their customers to improve their competitive stance vis-a-vis cablers. Telcos see vast new markets, and they want to get a piece of them.

All this bodes well for L.A. The expansion of broadband networks will bring an explosion of demand for digital content. Content creators and owners should expect to be very, very busy.

The In-Stat report, "Video Equipment for Telephone Company Local Switches," is part of a series of new reports on the video market. This one focuses on local facilities that are undergoing upgrades to supply video services, and takes a look at the type and dollar value of the equipment that telcos will order through 2005.

Bandwidth Keeps Coming

Broadwing Communications will extend its upgraded, all-optical network to Los Angeles by the end of 2000. The company is now conducting a test along a route between Fort Worth and Phoenix. This next-generation network has two benefits for Broadwing: It can provide service remotely, allowing the company to save money by eliminating expensive truck rolls to field locations, and it is much faster.

Broadwing also has an agreement with El Paso Global Networks, a subsidiary of El Paso Energy, to build a multiple-duct optical fiber system between Texas and Los Angeles. Broadwing will have access to some of the bandwidth, expanding its services to Los Angeles.

Charity Begins at Work

REZN8, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, Compaq Computer Corp., and Adobe Systems held a ceremony at Universal City's IMAX Theater to mark their unusual partnership. REZN8, a high-end graphics firm (with clients like CBS, ABC, and Fox) has teamed with the law enforcement agency and computer hardware and software companies to give kids from low-income families an education in digital graphics design and creation.

The cool thing about the so-called "Make Media" program is that it isn't a one-shot deal. Plans call for hands-on training to be provided in 17 Sheriff's Department youth facilities across the county to increase the young people's self-esteem and job readiness. The high-tech companies intend to make ongoing donations of goods and services, including computer workstations, printers, scanners, video editing systems and professional-quality graphics software.

Contributing columnist Joan Van Tassel has covered technology since 1990. Her book, "Digital TV Over Broadband: Harvesting Bandwidth," will be published in December by Focal Press.

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