OpenTV Pins Hopes on ITV Apps

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OpenTV Corp. said middleware is only part of its set-top software plan: In addition to running core applications such as electronic mail, Web browsing and chat, the company is also building a stable of richer applications designed to run on thin- and thick-client set-top boxes.

OpenTV expanded on those plans earlier this month, closing a deal to buy Static 2358 Holdings Ltd., a privately held United Kingdom-based interactive-television company, for about $50 million in combined cash and stock. Static creates TV-based games for such OpenTV set-top software rivals such as Liberate Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Canal Plus S.A., and operates an ITV service called PlayJam.

"OpenTV has changed dramatically over the last year," senior vice president of applications engineering Alec Livingstone said. A year ago, it primarily made set-top middleware, but over the last six months it's built a base of applications and tools tied to the platform.

"The hardest job is maintaining that service and keeping it fresh," he said.

One way to avoid stagnation is to build ITV applications around events that typically draw a wide audience.

In the U.K., for example, OpenTV teamed with British Broadcasting Corp. and British Sky Broadcasting Group plc to develop interactive coverage of the recent Wimbledon tennis championship.

While spectators dined on strawberries and cream, BBC viewers were treated to simultaneous access to action on five courts, as well as real-time scores and statistics. About 1 million viewers accessed the interactive service each day of the tournament's two-week run, Livingstone said.

The BBC employed a similar ITV presentation for this weekend's British Open golf tournament, allowing viewers to watch play from several angles, Livingstone said.

Though OpenTV is a major name in the ITV business, most of its cable success has come outside U.S. borders. OpenTV's sole U.S. cable deployment is with USA Media Group's system in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

That system runs such applications as instant messaging, games, on-demand news and television commerce over OpenTV middleware and Motorola Broadband Communications Sector-built DCT-2000 digital set-tops.

Livingstone said OpenTV's domestic cable momentum has been hindered partly because of delays involving deployments of thick-client digital boxes such as the DCT-5000. He said its window of opportunity in the U.S. could soon open because major MSOs such as AT&T Broadband have refocused their ITV efforts on millions of legacy thin-client boxes, most notably the DCT-2000.

"We want to show [MSOs] what we can do with that box, and make the 2000 a legitimate box for interactive services," he said.

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