Blue Ridge Deals Out the Interactive Card

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Blue Ridge Communications subscribers might be making history by playing Texas Hold ’Em and Billiards with buddies in other Blue Ridge homes, over their TV sets and via remote control.

The Palmerton, Pa.-based operator launched two multiplayer games from Carlsbad, Calif.-based Buzztime Entertainment Inc. on Feb. 1. Blue Ridge has about 30,000 digital subscribers in the Palmerton area.

“We have launched and people are playing head-to-head, live multiplayer Texas Hold ’Em and live, head-to-head multiplayer billiards,” Buzztime president Tyrone Lam said last Friday, previewing an announcement set for today (Feb. 13) by the unit of NTN Communications Inc. “That’s the first time that’s ever been done in the United States. A lot of people have demonstrated and made announcements, but nobody’s ever actually had people play.”

Said Blue Ridge general manager Mark Masenheimer: “Buzztime’s new games are exciting to play and give us a unique advantage of two-way game play.”

A broadband component is in the works, enabling play via the personal computer or the set-top. In Blue Ridge’s case, set-tops are supplied by Scientific-Atlanta Inc.

The cable operator already offers several single-player Buzztime games such as Solitaire, Checkers, Jungle Bop and Hexagone.

Interactive-television gaming has been slow to catch on in this country. Charter Communications Inc. offers single-player games to about 800,000 digital subscribers, while Cablevision Systems Corp. has a single-player game suite, as does satellite TV’s Dish Network. Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. offer Buzztime trivia games in some systems.

Blue Ridge customers use the remote to play poker or pool. Texas Hold ’Em “seats” up to 10 players at a virtual poker table that appears on the TV screen and displays each player’s pocket cards, community cards and point total.

Players get two pocket cards and five community cards to assemble the best hand. Points are tabulated, but to comply with Pennsylvania gambling regulations, no prizes or awards are given out, Lam said.

With the billiards game, players control the direction and force of the on-screen cue stick, using the directional keys on a standard remote.

The Blue Ridge launch means 300,000 digital-cable subscribers can play Buzztime games across 10 cable systems. About 10% of all digital subscribers play in systems where the games have been added, but during Blue Ridge’s first week — without any marketing — 5% of all digital subscribers had played a game, Lam said.

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