Starz Shows Off 'Enteract Now’ Application

4/04/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Starz Entertainment gave the first look at a simple interactive-TV application that will link subscribers directly to the premium programmer’s video-on-demand movies Thursday at the Cable Show ’09, with an assist from Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and CableLabs chief Dick Green.

Dubbed “Enteract Now,” the app is written to CableLabs’ Enhanced Binary Interchange Format specification, which is designed to run on virtually any digital-cable set-top in use.

The app — which Starz claimed it was able to create in just five days — pops up an on-screen menu on the linear channel if the movie currently showing is also available on VOD. A user can then click “start again” to watch it from the beginning, view it in HD if available or see what’s coming up next.

“It’s a tremendous value to the consumer,” Starz CEO Bob Clasen said at the presentation. “It will help solidify their use and expansion of on-demand.”

The programmer expects to offer the feature in its Starz, Encore and MoviePlex channels. Starz developed the app using tools from Comcast’s TVWorks subsidiary, and is planning to conduct transmission testing on the flagship Starz service later this month.

Roberts, who is also chairman of CableLabs, said Starz’s Enteract Now was a prime example of how EBIF will speed innovative new features for cable TV. He compared the interactive-TV platform to Apple’s iPhone App Store, as it would allow independent developers to create programs that will run on any cable operator’s system.

“That’s the world we want to be in, with faster innovation cycles,” he said.

While the industry is expanding into new areas, such as wireless, “we have a heck of a big legacy business” with video, Roberts said.

Green added, “The deployment of interactive television is real. It’s here. This is solid.”

However, Comcast has not determined when it would actually offer Starz’s Enteract Now, according to chief technology officer Tony Werner. He noted that the MSO has deployed EBIF user agents on 10 million Motorola set-top boxes, which the operator is using to deliver caller ID on TV and other interactive features.

Starz held the demo, showing Columbia Pictures’s Hancock, in the CableNET pavilion of the show floor.

Clasen said Enteract Now is the first of several interactive applications in development, including an “upsell” app that would allow subscribers to instantly order a subscription to Starz movie channels.

The app, which is around 50 Kilobytes, will be inserted into Starz’s standard MPEG-2 linear feeds. An EBIF user agent on the set-top box would pick up the trigger and process the data for on-screen presentation.

Starz on Wednesday said it would boost the number of VOD titles it offers to affiliates. Starz On Demand is remaining at 100 titles, but Starz HD On Demand is up to 45 (an increase of 31), Encore On Demand is up to 150 (a gain of 65), MoviePlex On Demand is at 100 titles and MoviePlex HD On Demand is at 10. Encore HD On Demand is remaining at 15.