OpenTV Fleshes Out Starting Lineup - Multichannel

OpenTV Fleshes Out Starting Lineup

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OpenTV Corp. substantially beefed up its executive ranks last week, naming three cable-industry veterans as senior vice presidents and adding former ICTV Inc. president Wes Hoffman as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The moves — by OpenTV CEO James Ackerman and Peter Boylan, chairman of OpenTV and CEO of Liberty Broadband Interactive Television Inc.— appear to promise a much more active OpenTV under the Liberty Media Corp. ownership.

In addition to Hoffman, OpenTV named former ESPN, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Gemstar TV Guide executive Thomas Hagopian as senior vice president and general manager of programming and advertising.

Connie Pettit, a 20-year cable-advertising executive at Times Mirror Cable, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's international arm and the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, was named senior vice president of advertising.

Bill Harvey, who founded the interactive advertising firm Next Century Media in the late 1990s, was named senior vice president and general manager for OpenTV's research division. And Thomas Ewing was named vice president and chief intellectual property officer.

New ICTV CEO

Hoffman joins OpenTV from ICTV, which has struggled in the marketplace to gain traction with cable operators. But there is a common thread between both companies, as Liberty Media Corp., which owns OpenTV, also is a major investor in ICTV.

Replacing Hoffman at ICTV is former CableData president Mike McGrail, who was named president and CEO.

The moves belie the conventional wisdom that interactive TV is dead. OpenTV recorded a net loss of $29 million in the first half of 2003, versus a $51 million loss in the year-earlier period. Revenue for the first six months of 2003 of $31 million trailed the year-ago total of $33 million.

Despite those financials, OpenTV supplies the software for interactive TV to 47 million set-tops worldwide, including Rupert Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting plc, the United Kingdom direct broadcast satellite platform. Murdoch, of course, is set to buy DirecTV Inc., and that has cable operators concerned about what interactive features he might launch to make DBS even more competitive with cable.

Ad interest

DirecTV already has signed a deal with Canal Plus U.S. Technologies for interactive software. Should that deal survive Murdoch's ownership, cable operators might look to OpenTV for interactive-software expertise. Or Murdoch might choose to stick with OpenTV for DirecTV, given his success with OpenTV on BSkyB.

In either case, OpenTV would benefit from the changing competitive landscape.

The personnel changes also point to OpenTV's emphasis on pitching Madison Avenue to make ITV a viable business, since Pettit and Harvey are well known in advertising circles. The moves also bring Hagopian back under Boylan's wing.

Hagopian was instrumental in getting ESPN.com off the ground in the mid-1990s.

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