Fox Sports Pitches ITV Services to MSOs

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Fox Sports Net is close to reaching its first agreements to deploy new interactive-television services, network executives say.

The national sports network is developing three interactive products. They are: Fox Sports Extra, a service that would provide looped video highlights and customized sports tickers; Fox Sports Active, which would allow subscribers to control camera angles in sporting events; and a virtual channel that would allow users to access pages containing sports information.

Fox Cable Networks Group executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Lindsay Gardner said he expects to see the first cable deployment in as soon as 60 days. FSN is talking to several MSOs about the ITV services, including Insight Communications Co. and AT&T Broadband, Gardner said.

Insight chief operating officer Kim Kelly said her MSO is considering launching FSN's ITV services. "It's got a good look and feel, and we're talking to them," added Kelly, whose company has been one of the most aggressive U.S. operators in deploying ITV services.

Fox Cable — which cut a deal to include Fox Sports World, Fox Movie Channel and National Geographic Channel in the digital lineup that Cablevision Systems Corp. unveiled on Sept. 28 — also included terms for carriage of the ITV services in that agreement, Gardner said. But Cablevision hasn't yet agreed to launch the service, Gardner and a Cablevision spokes-woman said.

Gardner said Fox Cable hasn't settled on a business model for the service, but he said the network would split any advertising, subscription or commerce revenue 50-50 with cable or satellite affiliates.

"Our pitch to operators is let's put these things together — content and bandwidth — and let's just see how we make money. And everything that comes down the pike, we'll divide up equally," Gardner said.

Looking to keep capital expenditures in check, many operators have scaled back plans to deploy ITV services in the last year to focus on the core video business.

But with EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc. marketing interactive products, Insight's Kelly said that now is the time to offer ITV services.

"We can't do it by ourselves, and the other MSOs need to start to take the plunge," she said. "It takes a vision. It takes the ability to invest in technologies."

EVENT TEST WANTED

Gardner said FSN is ready to deploy Fox Sports Extra and the virtual channel today, but officials want to test Fox Sports Active during a high-profile sports event before it's launched commercially. The company hopes to eventually use Fox Sports Active in major events, like the Super Bowl, the World Series or the Daytona 500, he added.

Fox Sports Active is similar to a service that Fox Sports Net tested with ACTV Inc. in 1996. That service, which ran on an analog Tele-Communications Inc. system, also allowed subscribers to control camera angles.

Gardner said FSN has developed its own technology for the ITV products, and that it doesn't want to rely on third-party vendors, which would also ask for a cut of any revenue FSN generates.

ACTV Inc. CEO David Reese declined to comment on FSN's plans.

Fox is developing the service for mid-level digital set-tops, such as Motorola Corp.'s DCT-2000 and Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s Explorer 2000 set-top, Gardner said.

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