Microsoft Inks Programming Deals

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Las Vegas -- Trying to jack up the PC’s profile as a hub for entertainment, Microsoft lined up three cable programmers -- Showtime Networks, Starz Entertainment and Nickelodeon -- to provide content to users of the Windows Vista operating system.

Vista -- which Microsoft is promoting heavily this week at the Consumer Electronics Show here -- is slated to be widely available to consumers Jan. 30.

As reported last week, Showtime plans to offer the first download-to-own video service. Showtime’s Vista-based service, to be commercially available starting in late January, will allow consumers to buy and download episodes from its original series, including Weeds, The L Word and Sleeper Cell. The shows can be watched on PCs, portable players or TVs connected to Windows computers.

Showtime didn’t provide pricing information for the Vista-download service. However, Showtime episodes are available on Apple Computer’s iTunes and Amazon.com’s Unbox services for $1.99 apiece. Showtime is using ExtendMedia’s OpenCASE software to manage video downloads.

MTV Networks’ Nickelodeon, meanwhile, will be the exclusive provider of kids’ programming for the operating system.

Nickelodeon designed a version of the TurboNick Web video player for Vista’s Media Center Edition, which manages media files and allows viewers to play them on a PC or on a TV.

“This is optimized for the 10-foot [TV] experience, versus the two-foot [PC] experience,” said Jason Root, vice president of Nick.com in the MTVN Kids and Family Group.

For example, the version for Vista works with a TV remote control. The Vista version of TurboNick can also switch over to the Nickelodeon cable TV channel if the PC is equipped with a tuner card or if someone is viewing TurboNick on a PC-connected television.

The service, like TurboNick, will be free-of-charge to consumers and include video ads. It will carry the same content, although Nickelodeon expects to offer certain episodes up to one week in advance exclusively on Vista, according to Steve Youngwood, executive VP of digital media for Nickelodeon and the MTVN Kids and Family Group.

Youngwood said Vista may “cannibalize” traffic from TurboNick, but “net-net, we think there’s growth.” TurboNick served 250 million video streams in 2006, according to MTVN.

Finally, Starz will make its Vongo Internet-based movie-rental service available on Vista. Bob Greene, executive VP of advanced services for Starz, said Vongo will be the exclusive movie service on Vista for “a little less than one year.”

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