As broadband service providers move closer to launching more sophisticated interactive applications, software companies that aid content developers and technology vendors are playing an increasingly important role.
Interactive-TV-service provider itaas Inc., which is perhaps best known for its development work related to Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s ITV platform, actually boasts a client list of more than 60 companies. They range from Time Warner Cable to Motorola Inc. to The Weather Channel.
“We started in 1999 with ITV services and have grown into a product company,” said Vibha Rustagi, founding partner, president and CEO. “We offer a suite of services, from system architecture and design, product development, certification, deployment and support and maintenance for applications.”
For instance, itaas helps run S-A's client developers program, assisting content providers as they port applications onto the S-A platform. There are 30 developers in the S-A “istart” program, including Ensequence Inc., ESPN and Bluestreak, Rustagi said.
Started about three years ago with three developers, the program has drawn more interest as ITV shows signs of growth. “Interest is picking back up again,” Rustagi said. “Developers are starting to come back in.”
S-A and itaas are a natural combination, since both are based in Atlanta, and “we're also looking at adding other development programs for other platforms. We have expertise from the client to the server side of the network,” Rustagi continued. “We've been involved in [OpenCable Applications Platform], and continue to provide resources to OCAP testing.”
Among itaas's new developments is the addition of remote access to its Atlanta testbed headend, allowing MSOs to test applications from off site.
The company also boasts an event collection system, which monitors on-demand session activity. It has been deployed in more than 47 cable systems, including all the Time Warner markets and two Cox markets. The ECS reports VOD usage, providing statistical data from hubs and from set-top boxes.
Itaas is adding a VOD session simulator to the product line, which will allow MSOs to conduct targeted pre-deployment testing of VOD systems. Although most MSOs have launched VOD, systems still upgrade or switch out equipment, or add storage and streaming capacity, necessitating testing. “We can stress test servers and components,” said Jaspal Bhasin, founding partner and chief operating officer of itaas.
The ECS “allows us to take proactive steps to run operations smoothly,” Bhasin said. “It's a rich data set. It provides marketing trend analysis, VOD viewing and usage patterns.”
The ECS software sits on its own server, but taps into the VOD server, billing systems and set-top boxes.
The company also helped build S-A's portal application for its Comcast systems. “The whole application and server piece was us,” Bhasin said. In S-A systems, viewers go to a specific channel, say channel 702, to get HGTV On Demand, for instance. Comcast's VOD content is accessed via a menu, not through a channel, so itaas built an application to suit Comcast's needs.
Itaas also provides pre-certification in its test facilities. “This minimizes the time in [S-A's] Creative Edge certification,” Rustagi said.