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Coming to the Net: niche programming

CAMBRIDGE -- Cable television often boasts that it can deliver esoteric fare for nearly any taste. But it could be rendered obsolete by the likes of Bill Eason's hog-cooking class.

The North Carolina cook's program -- an ''all-day, whole hog class edited down to 45 minutes on how to find, select, prepare and serve whole hog from the man who cooks several hundred per year" -- will be available for a $1.99 download as early as next month on something that's called DaveTV.

It's the type of show -- niche programming to please any taste or whim -- we'll be seeing much more of now that broadband Internet has become a more reliable conduit for the delivery of broadcast-quality video.

A number of start-ups are promoting this sort of ''narrowcasting."

Theirs is a vision of a video universe of endless variety that will dwarf traditional television and pay-per-view offerings even as new players -- regional Bell telephone companies among them -- emerge to vie for viewers, competing against cable television, satellite, and other providers.

Ken Lipscomb, chief executive of the Atlanta company, says Dave-TV will offer more than 100 channels featuring 100,000 hours of licensed programming, much of it specialized fare such as illegal street racing and bedtime stories read by an on-screen narrator.

The hog video will be on the company's ''bbq" channel, featuring more than 1,000 barbecue-related programs.

Initially, DaveTV will only be available for viewing on a computer. But the company promises a set-top box for about $200 that will allow downloads to be played on televisions.

Also getting into the act: Brightcove Networks Inc. It will let customers avoid buying a separate set-top box and instead link their TVs to newer computers that run Microsoft Windows Media Center software.

Led by Jeremy Allaire, former chief technical officer of Macromedia, the Cambridge firm plans to begin offering a platform to deliver all manner of programming -- supplied by everyone from traditional TV producers to video bloggers to video-on-demand start-ups -- sometime in the second half of the year.

''I deeply believe that over the next several years it will be this blend of very popular shows to kind of middle-of-the-road, down to you-happen-to-be-a-fly-fishing-guy, and you watch fly fishing videos made by some guy in Kansas, and you're paying him $10 to see it," Allaire said.

Start-ups like Brightcove are counting on revenue from consumers, advertisers, and such content providers as small-time filmmakers looking to gain exposure. The latter can feed their masterpieces to a distributor and set terms for pricing and any ads that might accompany the show. Revenue from viewers who pay either a subscription or per-program fee could be split.

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