London -- British MSO NTL Inc. launched a nationwide
interactive-services platform last week, getting a head start on competitors Telewest
Communications plc and Cable & Wireless Communications plc.
NTL's service, "iTV," bowed last Wednesday with a
lineup of 42 services. Jeremy Thorp, group managing director of NTL Digital Services, said
NTL hopes to sign up 100,000 subscribers by the end of the year. The iTV service is
transmitted to subscribers over telephone wires.
NTL, which is 5 percent-owned by Microsoft Corp., will
charge subscribers $24 per month for iTV. The fee includes online charges, as well as a
set-top box and wireless keyboard.
The service features content such as news, travel
information, weather, online shopping from British retailer Tesco Stores, content from the
British Broadcasting Corp., phone listings from Thomson Directories and theater and event
ticketing from Ticketmaster plc.
Flextech plc, the U.K. multichannel programmer part-owned
by Liberty Media International, will also be a major content supplier to iTV. And the
interactive arena is one in which Flextech itself sees considerable growth.
Flextech chief executive Adam Singer said this year is the
beginning of a new era in TV thanks to digital-satellite and digital-terrestrial
television in the United Kingdom.
"The Internet is an opportunity for Flextech to be
Flextech all over again," he said, describing the Web as an essential and logical
extension to its business.
The company established Flextech Interactive last year,
with associated Web sites for all its channels. In January, it launched
"SceneOne," a Web site that is expected to spawn an accompanying pay TV channel
Flextech invested more than $15 million in interactive
services last year -- a figure that Singer called "cautious." This year, the
company will more than double that amount.
Meanwhile, Thorp said iTV expects to sign up a considerable
portion of the 1.1 million homes that are connected to NTL's network. The service will
also be transmitted on digital-terrestrial services.
He added that NTL is talking to other broadband-service
providers, and he appeared optimistic about the progress of the talks. "We want to be
a national player in this business," Thorp said, noting that the company hopes to
provide iTV over NTL's hybrid fiber-coaxial network.