OpenTV Adds SkyItalia

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Software provider OpenTV Corp. is extending its grip on News Corp.-owned satellite-TV platforms, signing a multiyear deal with Italy’s SkyItalia to offer OpenTV’s PlayJam interactive games channel.

This is the first big deal for new OpenTV CEO Jim Chiddix, who joined as executive chairman in March. Ex-CEO Jim Ackerman said he was leaving after four years at the firm. “With Jim on board, this seemed like the appropriate time for me to make a change and seek new challenges,” he said in a statement.

OpenTV has cracked the satellite-TV lineups of EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network in this country and News’s British Sky Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Foxtel in Australia and now SkyItalia. Liberty Media-owned OpenTV wants Chiddix — a longtime former Time Warner Cable engineer — to make some headway with U.S. cable companies.

“The industry is aware it’s in a competitive world that will get rough and tumble,” Chiddix said after making the rounds at the National Show in New Orleans, following several stops in Europe. “The interest that I got was very intelligent, probing interest.”

He noted that SkyItalia plans to replace 1.4 million existing set-tops with OpenTV-equipped boxes, a move that shows News chairman Rupert Murdoch’s willingness to spend what’s necessary to have the best platform possible. News, of course, now owns top U.S. DBS provider DirecTV Inc.

“News Corp. has made aggressive use of interactivity and has been aggressive in rolling out hardware,” he said, pointing out that Foxtel has “very impressive” multiscreen news and sports ITV features that OpenTV showed off in New Orleans.

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