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High Tech Hollywood Comes to Old Town

Chamber of Commerce recognizes Netblender for technological achievement.

One Republican presidential campaign is in the process of putting together a special DVD to send existing supporters and potential supporters. Using the latest technological advances, the disc can blend DVD video with real-time Internet media — allowing the candidate to update the disc at will by making an announcement, posting a new television advertisement or even accepting a campaign contribution. The discs are being created here in Alexandria by a company that was recognized as the winner of the 11th Annual Alexandria Technology Achievement Award.

"We can’t tell you which campaign yet," said John Harrington, CEO of Netblender, after receiving the award. "But we hope to make that announcement soon."

For Harrington, an Alexandria native, it’s just one more use for his company’s innovative technology that provides seamless blending of DVDs and real-time Internet media — something he said brings "high-tech Hollywood to Old Town Alexandria." No special software is needed to use the technology, and the updated content can be applied to DVDs that are already in consumers’ libraries. The software doesn’t even have to be published on the disc.

"We are the only company that can take DVD content and overlay dynamic updatable content," said Denny Breitenfeld, chief technology officer for Netblender, after the award was presented last week. "It’s a technology that can be used for entertainment, government, politics and education."

THE TECHNIQUE was recently demonstrated in a 2006 DVD called "The Cultivated Life: Thomas Jefferson and Wine," which was nominated for an Emmy for cinematography and musical composition. The DVD allows viewers to watch portions of the documentary that retrace Jefferson's 1787 wine tour through France while an online map of France is displayed simultaneously. Viewers are able to take control and manipulate the map view by clicking on any of Jefferson’s tour stops, which are marked in pushpins.

"When a pushpin is clicked, the application cues the corresponding portion of the film from the DVD," Harrington explained.

After graduating from St. Stephen’s School in 1989 — two years before it merged with St. Agnes School — Harrington moved to Hollywood to break into the entertainment industry. He worked as a sound technician on films such as "The Brady Bunch Movie" before he produced documentaries for a Pasadena-based company. Harrington returned to Alexandria in 1997 to found Madison Films, which has produced documentary and interactive films for museums, government, universities, home entertainment and an array of clients that include Mount Vernon Estate, Smithsonian Institution, National Library of Medicine, U.S. Treasury and Sony Pictures. Now — with the patent-pending Netblender technology taking off — he’s excited about the future.

"Netblender leverages what a DVD does well without making it a completely geeky experience," said Harrington. "Training and education professionals have a tool for rich media applications that are never out of date and advertisers have a new avenue into the home as well as a new vehicle for maintaining an ongoing relationship with viewers."

OTHER CANDIDATES for the 2007 Technology Award included Covanta Energy Corporation, e-Fense and H2Gen Innovation. A three-judge panel evaluated each nomination on the basis of its technological achievement and its impact on business, industry and the city of Alexandria. The judging panel consisted of Kostas Liopiros, a member of the City’s Commission on Information Technology; Dennis Garcia, president of Potomac Management Corporation and a member of the Mayor’s Economic Sustainability Work Group; and Marc Wolverton, of G2 Tactics, Inc., the winner of the 2006 Alexandria Technology Achievement Award.

"These finalists play an active role not only in what happens in Alexandria but also nationally and internationally," said Mayor Bill Euille during the lunchtime award ceremony last week. "They show that we play a major role in the global economy."

Alexandria Technology Achievement Week and the Alexandria Technology Achievement Award are sponsored cooperatively by the city of Alexandria, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. The award originated in 1997 with the Ad Hoc Task Force on Information and Communication Technologies, which was succeeded by the Commission on Information Technology. The Commission is comprised of members of the Alexandria City School Board, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, the Library Board, telecommunications providers, residents and City Council members Del Pepper and Rob Krupicka.

"What a neat way for the city and the Chamber of Commerce to promote Alexandria businesses," said Pete Howton, CEO of Kingfisher Systems, which won the award in 2005. "It was not only enjoyable to show off our technology but also to have it appreciated by our peers, potential customers and the public."