Cable’s move to take greater control over its interactive program guides quickened with two separate developments last week.
Comcast Corp. executives extended a licensing deal with Microsoft Corp., under which it will roll out the software giant’s TV Foundation Edition in some markets. And Time Warner Cable said it will phase out two EPGs — Scientific Atlanta Inc.’s SARA and Pioneer Corp.’s Passport — for an offering from its in-house MystroTV initiative.
“We intend to have two guides,” said Comcast Cable president Steve Burke last week, discussing details of the Comcast-Microsoft contract extension. “We want to accelerate the development of the evolution of our guides.”
The deal allows Comcast to license Microsoft TV Foundation Edition — various combinations of the guide and middleware — and deploy it in up to 5 million homes. Comcast is trialing the software and the guide in Seattle.
SEATTLE IN VIEW
“I can see the guide rolled out in Seattle,” where Comcast has 1 million subscribers, Burke said last week. “There is a good chance it will happen by the end of this year.”
At the same time, Comcast is committed to its new joint venture to create an in-house IPG with Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.
“We intend to have two horses,” Burke said.
“We have 8 million digital subscribers, and all those are up for whatever is the best guide. Now, we have two aggressive, entrepreneurial companies.”
Burke said TV Foundation Edition has several attributes, including an “elegant” look and feel, increased loading speed, VOD search capabilities and potential applications like a ticker, ITV and gaming.
TV Foundation Edition 1.7 recently passed successful integration tests with Motorola Inc.’s DCT 6412 dual tuner HDTV set-top.
“We would love to see Comcast roll out dual tuner boxes as soon as possible,” said Moshe Lichtman, corporate vice president of the Microsoft TV Division.
Burke added that TV Foundation could be deployed in both new and legacy digital set-tops.
Time Warner’s plans to replace Scientific-Atlanta’s SARA guide and Pioneer Corp.’s Passport IPG with the new Time Warner Cable Digital Navigator it’s developing came during a Cable Television Laboratories Inc. media briefing in New York last week.
The MSO’s guide efforts originated from its MystroTV Group in Denver.
“At this point, we are producing a mirror image of the SARA and Passport navigators that run on set-tops today, so we could move customers away from the hardware manufacturers’ EPG over to the Time Warner Cable EPG,” said MSO senior vice president of strategy and development Kevin Leddy. “That EPG will, of course, include video-on-demand, subscription video-on-demand, etc.
“We’re also spending a lot of time and money on porting our navigator, our electronic program guide, to OCAP [OpenCable Applications Platform],” he said. “The objective is to make a pretty clean break from the legacy navigation system over to an OCAP navigation system.
“That transition to a single navigator will have a lot of operational benefits for cable operators.”
S-A DOWNPLAYING HIT
Scientific-Atlanta chief scientist Tony Wasilewski downplayed Leddy’s comments, saying he doesn’t believe Time Warner Cable would be technically capable of rolling out its new IPG on the older, 2000-series S-A digital set-tops in the field.
“I don’t expect them to [drop SARA], Wasilewski said. “I have not heard that they are going to do that.”
Pioneer director of marketing Dan Ward didn’t return phone calls last week.
Leddy said Time Warner will run beta tests on OCAP implementation by year-end, and will look to license the product to set-top vendors and consumer electronics companies.
At the moment, Microsoft’s guide isn’t OCAP-compatible, but the software giant is working with Cable Television Laboratories Inc. “to marry the best of both specifications,” Lichtman said.