Canoe Fleshes Out Interactive TV Options

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Canoe Ventures in the next few months will provide TV programmers detailed specs and tools for building two classes of interactive applications, following a recent test in which a standards-based ITV application was distributed nationally to multiple operators.

In the technical trial late last year, a viewer-voting application written to CableLabs' Enhanced Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) specification was inserted into a national cable network's programming stream, Canoe chief technology officer Arthur Orduna said in an interview.

The app was successfully distributed to several hundred set-top boxes, across several MSOs, in the homes of "friendlies," which refers to employees and others who are aware of the test.

"The end-to-end home run worked," said Orduna, who declined to identify the network that participated in the test citing a confidentiality agreement. "We proved out this new set of specifications for Canoe."

Canoe, formed last year by the six largest U.S. cable operators hopes to launch the initial ITV product before the end of 2009, Orduna said: "We want to start proving out EBIF applications."

Initially, Canoe will define two ITV templates, both based on EBIF: One for voting and polling, and one for "request for information" applications.

Canoe is in the midst of building the centralized Common Advanced Advertising System (CAAS), pronounced "kass," which will manage the handoff of data and applications between the programmers and individual cable systems. "For the greater part of 2009, we will be building and testing," Orduna said.

As for how big a footprint of EBIF-enabled set-tops will be ready to roll -- and when -- Orduna said that's the province of the individual MSOs. Orduna, who was previously Advance/Newhouse Communications senior vice president of policy and product, officially joined Canoe last fall.

Comcast, for one, said it has deployed EBIF user agents on more than 10 million Motorola set-top boxes and hopes to complete the roll out to its entire Motorola footprint, about 20 million boxes, by mid-2009.

One of Canoe's functions is to set standards and create test systems for both MSOs and programmers, to ensure the ITV applications work as expected, according to Orduna.

To that end, Canoe will work with a programmer "preflight" to ensure the apps are certified and tested before they're sent out to the MSOs. In addition, the venture will ensure MSOs have the appropriate EBIF capability, including an aggregation server in their headend to record and report set-top responses.

Canoe also is defining the business model around a national interactive advertising campaign. Orduna declined to discuss pricing plans at this point but said the goal is to preserve the way TV advertising is bought and sold today "with the incremental value of interactivity tied to it."

Eventually Canoe expects to build templates for additional kinds of EBIF applications, Orduna said. "We want to begin simply," he said. "The power of this is that it's national, and we're hitting key markets."

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