OpenTV Activates Sports, Shopping Apps

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OpenTV Inc. is back with a splash, as the ITV company is set to announce a pair of new features at this week’s National Show — a two-way shopping application with sister company QVC and a renewal of its deal with Charter Communications Inc.

SportsActive and NewsActive — the sports and news applications — allow cable operators to provide multiple camera angles and feeds of various sports and news content.

The QVC application will enable viewers to make shopping purchases with a touch of their remotes. Charter plans to launch the QVC application this summer, OpenTV said.

Both applications, although new to the U.S. cable market, are staples of Rupert Murdoch’s British Sky Broadcasting platform in the U.K.

“The deal with QVC is the first real-time commerce application on a TV channel to be launched in the U.S,” said OpenTV CEO James Ackerman. And the sports and news applications “are more feature-rich than any other enhanced sports or news application in the world,” he said.

With SportsActive, viewers can select multiple camera angles and different audio feeds from games, as well as statistics, replay highlights and player profiles. Murdoch uses the application for the U.K.’s top professional soccer circuit, the English Premier League.

NewsActive gives viewers control over the news they see by selecting from eight live video and five live text screens. News can be divided by segment: headlines, business, entertainment, weather or sports. Again, Murdoch has launched a similar application with SkyNews on BSkyB, and both applications bowed on his Foxtel service in Australia earlier this year.

The QVC application will use OpenTV’s ProSync technology. Charter plans to deploy the service to 1.3 million homes this summer, on both Motorola DCT 2000 and similar level Scientific Atlanta Explorer set-tops.

“We have spent a lot of time trying to get the cable industry excited about interactive TV, and the News Corp. acquisition brings its own impetus into the market,” Ackerman said.

“We clearly have the technology solution,” he said, and it became apparent over the past few years that “we need to put more emphasis behind ITV applications and applications the industry will want.”

For the QVC commerce application, Open TV deploys a server at Charter headends. The software necessary to run the application is already embedded on the set-top box via the Digeo platform, according to Ackerman.

He said an icon will appear on the screen indicating the QVC program is running and that viewers can order the product. The viewer hits “select” on the remote to choose an item, then enters the QVC PIN number. The application is linked directly to QVC’s e-commerce engine, Ackerman said, which assesses the inventory stock, checking color and size. If the product is available, a real-time confirmation is sent back to the viewer.

This same application will support any e-commerce application from any other network, plus consumer polling and voting, he said.

The sports and news applications will use XML data to update player statistics in real-time. “It’s very, very timely,” Ackerman said. “It supports four different camera angles on the field. You can watch the entire football game from the 50-yard line.”

The application will require additional bandwidth, depending on how many camera angles an operator wants to offer. But Ackerman said operators could choose one or two key games a week and make it an event-based promotion to upgrade to digital.

The news application is similar, but takes up less bandwidth, he said. “It takes up the equivalent of one addition digital channel.”

All the applications run on OpenTV’s middleware. “We do have middleware that works on the 2000 series set-tops,” Ackerman said. “The application runs on top of the middleware. The middleware takes up 500 Kilobits. The application is carouseled into the set-top box.”

The two applications would require buy-in from major U.S. programmers. Ackerman said those discussions have just commenced, noting “the reaction has been very, very positive.” Such applications could help programmers drive viewers to their linear channels, he said.

The Charter deal is the annual renewal between the two companies, Ackerman said. He said he hopes the QVC deal is the first of many interactive applications OpenTV will launch with the MSO.

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