Microsoft Introduces TV-Platform Support


Microsoft Corp. continued to cast a wide net in seeking support for its "Microsoft TV" platform by announcing several developer and tools programs, an expansion of the platform's product family and a field test of WebTV Networks services by Canadian MSO Rogers Cable Inc.

Microsoft and Rogers began testing Microsoft's WebTV service in Toronto last week. The tests mark the first services to be implemented since Microsoft bought a $400 million stake in Rogers last July, when the operator agreed to license the interactive-TV platform.

Phil Goldman, vice president of Microsoft's TV-platform division, said Rogers will be "ramping up to a full Microsoft TV deployment" this year. Rollouts are also scheduled this year by AT & T Broadband and United Pan-Europe Communications N.V. (UPC). Microsoft invested $5 billion in AT & T Corp. last May, and owns about 7 percent of UPC.

Rogers will offer WebTV under its "Rogers Digital Choice TV" brand, with Internet browsing, e-mail and online banking/shopping applications.

Rogers has also licensed Liberate Technologies' interactive-TV software, which would serve as a backup to Microsoft's platform, MSO senior vice president of engineering Dermot O'Carroll said. Rogers is a Liberate investor.

Goldman declined to comment on the backup plan.

Typical deployments of the Microsoft TV platform will begin with "walled-garden, Web-formatted content, moving into e-mail on TV" and chat applications and a full set of multimedia applications, Goldman said.

Microsoft is applying the "polishing touches" to the Microsoft TV platform to make it fully functional and "commercial-grade," he added.

AT & T Broadband's deployment-using Microsoft's "Windows CE" operating system, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s "PersonalJava" middleware and TV Guide Inc.'s electronic program guide-is scheduled for the second half of the year.

Goldman disputed rumors of integration difficulties among Microsoft, Sun and TV Guide software and Motorola Broadband Communications Sector's "DCT-5000" set-top boxes. He said the AT & T Broadband rollout is on schedule, adding that the MSO asked Microsoft to take more responsibility for integrating the set-top's software stack.

"The key thing is making sure that there's a quality customer experience," Goldman said.

Microsoft also wants to help interactive-TV-applications developers.

The new "Microsoft TV Partner Program" is a membership program designed to educate and offer tools to Web developers, producers, networks and studios to create enhanced-TV content for the platform.