Library Video Company (LVC), a distributor of educational VHS and DVD programs to U.S. schools, has announced an agreement with SAFARI Technologies, a provider of video networking solutions for education, to purchase SAFARI’s Video Networking Division. The move gives LVC another method for distributing its digital content to educators–from a central mass server to local school servers, and from there to desktop computers on demand–while also positioning the company to compete with the acknowledged leader in video-on-demand service to schools, Discovery Education.

The new business will be called SAFARI Video Networks. A final deal was expected to be reached by the end of February.

SAFARI’s flagship product, weDireq, will be open to all video providers in the industry, LVC said. weDireq includes hardware and software that allows educators to access multimedia programs digitally, on demand, across a wide-area network (WAN).

The production branch of LVC, Schlessinger Media, will provide its own content of more than 1,000 educational videos through the SAFARI network. LVC says this content is growing by approximately 100 new titles every year. In addition, LVC says it has relationships with more than 700 producers of educational materials–names like Disney, PBS, and A&E Television Networks. The company reportedly stocks more than 18,000 titles covering all subjects for all grade levels.

LVC provides hard-copy video to more than 70,000 schools, according to the company. Though SAFARI has distribution deals with only 3,500 schools currently, Andrew Schlessinger, president and chief executive officer of LVC and Schlessinger Media, said the new business entity will expand dramatically the number of schools that now use the SAFARI video networking system.

LVC hopes its acquisition of SAFARI’s Video Networking Division will lead to deals with its partner content providers to distribute their materials through the weDireq distribution service, too.

“We are joining forces with SAFARI to provide a service to schools that will allow them to choose the [digital video] content they want,” Schlessinger said. He said his organization will be able to provide digital education content from dozens of video suppliers immediately and hundreds more in the future.

Schlessinger would not identify specific video suppliers who planned to take advantage of the new distribution system. But Mike Kroening, a spokesman for Clearvue & SVE video, a provider of music, art, and children’s literature videos that distributes its content through LVC, said his company is “pleased to be able to offer our content through SAFARI, because it is an excellent local delivery option that allows customers to choose the best content for them.”

With its purchase of SAFARI’s Video Networking Division, LVC appears to be positioning itself to compete with Discovery Education, the nation’s largest supplier of digital video-on-demand content to schools, with one key difference: Discovery allows schools either to stream video live from the company’s servers to teachers’ desktops or download the video to the schools’ own servers and distribute it on demand from there, but LVC has no plans at present to offer a live streaming option.

“We are not launching a streaming service,” Schlessinger said. “The content is broadcast at 30 fps [frames per second] over the network, but not streamed over the web, which we believe is problematic, because most schools have T1 lines, and the network bottlenecks with two concurrent streams and disrupts the schools’ other online needs.”

Discovery currently controls the market share in video-on-demand services for education by a large margin. The company reportedly supplies more than 43,000 schools in the United States with educational content. More than 19 million students in the country reportedly have access to Discovery video content through the company’s unitedstreaming service.

LVC, however, reportedly provides VHS and DVD materials to more than twice as many schools. Time will tell if SAFARI Video Networking will be able to build an online distribution system with enough digital content to change the market landscape and genuinely compete with Discovery. Discovery itself gathered substantial market share in a move similar to the one being made by LVC. In the past two years, Discovery has purchased two other companies–United Learning and AIMS Multimedia–and has assumed their content and distribution systems.

A spokesman for Discovery said his company does not consider the development a threat to its business. The spokesman noted that Discovery’s education resources have been proven to enhance student achievement (see story: He said no other company in the market can credibly make such a claim.

One long-time SAFARI client was cautiously optimistic about the development. “Any time you have a major change in the structure of a company that you’ve been dealing with for a long time, there are some problems,” said Anne Carver, co-director of educational technology for Buford County Schools in Buford, S.C. But “in the long run, it’s going to be a real plus, especially in the amount of digital content that will be available.”

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