Comcast, Cox Absorb MetaTV

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TVWorks, the TV-software development joint venture of Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc., last week bought MetaTV for an undisclosed price, adding an applications development company to the Liberate Technologies Inc. middleware assets the two MSOs now own.

The acquisition helps round out Comcast’s vision for bringing ITV software application and development in-house as the industry battles video competition from direct-broadcast satellite and, potentially, the telcos.

DEVELOPING APPLICATIONS

MetaTV is developing ITV applications for both the OpenCable Applications Platform and the OnRamp-to-OCAP platform. Both Cox and Comcast participated in MetaTV’s $21 million funding round in 2002.

TVWorks said it would retain current employees at MetaTV, which is based in Mill Valley, Calif., and run by Irv Kalick, who’ll remain on as CEO.

“It’s a company we’ve worked with a lot in the past,” Comcast senior vice president of digital TV Mark Hess said in an interview after TVWorks closed the deal for MetaTV last Wednesday. “It’s a natural fit into TVWorks.”

Comcast owns the majority of TV works, with Cox a minority owner. The joint venture bought Liberate’s assets for $82 million earlier this year.

“This is a recognition of the commitment we’ve had to Meta through the years,” added Cox executive director of development and investments Jeff Brown. “We want them to be the application layer that will ride on top of OnRamp-to-OCAP and OCAP.”

Said Hess: “We’ve got a platform group to work on OCAP in London, Ontario, and an application group to build strategic applications for us. With MetaTV, we now can build stuff ourselves. We can have more direct integration into GuideWorks.”

The GuideWorks joint venture between Comcast and Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. encompasses Gemstar’s interactive program guide development.

At the May 2004 National Show, MetaTV showcased applications running on Liberate’s platform. In April this year, Cox announced the launch of MetaTV interactive-TV services — such as customer-service applications that let subscribers pay bills or upgrade programming via remote control — in up to five markets this year.

The rollouts began with employees and a group of “friendly” homes in Pensacola, Fla.

Users are able to view and pay their cable bills, order services online, access news, sports, weather and horoscope information, play simple games or view the Cox high speed data e-mail messages via their TVs.

Comcast used MetaTV in a test of information services and games in Baltimore. MetaTV also has been integrated with the Microsoft TV Foundation platform Comcast has deployed in the Seattle area.

“The goal is to write an application once and run it on multiple platforms,” Hess said.

For instance, Comcast might be able to use MetaTV to gets its GuideWorks I-Guide to run on Scientific-Atlanta Inc. set-tops.

ULTIMATE TARGET: OCAP

“Our focus is on getting ready to deploy full-fledged OCAP,” Hess said. But cable companies are still assembling all the necessary parts for OCAP implementations.

“There are lots of moving parts in that schedule. We’re working on a program to do iterative builds along the way and get them in the field over the next 18 months. The focus now is on operation, development and execution.”

“We believe in the team at MetaTV and we want a tighter relationship with them,” Brown added. “Meta is great at building applications. They can launch anybody’s application easily and quickly. It’s now one team, working for us and working for the cable industry.”

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