Operators Release Tru2Way Agreement Details

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Comcast this week submitted a copy of the industry’s binding licensing agreement for the tru2way interactive TV specification in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, revealing that consumer-electronics manufacturers are allowed to displace an MSO’s own navigation screens but only under specific circumstances.

The eight-page “memorandum of understanding” contract, first signed by Sony Electronics in a breakthrough deal with cable last month and soon followed by five other licensees, outlines specific commitments the operators must meet in deploying and supporting tru2way.

Comcast included the MOU as part of a June 10 filing with the FCC’s Media Bureau after agency staffers requested a copy of the agreement. CableLabs initially said the MOU was not being made public because other consumer-electronics companies were reviewing the terms.

The agreement limits the way third-party CE devices may use on-screen real-estate, which had been one of the bones of contention in the years-long standoff between the Consumer Electronics Association and the cable industry on opening access to two-way services.

Tru2way-based products—like HDTV sets or digital video recorders—may display the CE manufacturer’s navigation controls only if a user has initiated an action to access those controls, and appears the same way regardless of channel and is “transitory.” Licensees are also prohibited from displaying on-screen ads.

With respect to guide data, the MOU requires the operators to provide only a pass-through of the CBS broadcast signal containing Gemstar-TV Guide electronic programming guide data.

“There is no requirement that [the cable operators] provide metadata, additional guide data or any other path for guide data,” according to the memorandum of understanding.

As previously reported by Multichannel News, under the terms of the MOU, five of the operators—Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks—have committed to rolling out tru2way in 100% of their systems by July 2009. Charter Communications will do so by July 2010.

In addition, according to the agreement, the MSOs are required to include tru2way support in 20% of their own set-tops bought after July 1, 2009, a commitment that will end when 10 million tru2way-based devices have been deployed industry-wide.

There’s also a “sunset” provision that ends the operators’ obligation to support tru2way if CE makers ship fewer than 500,000 tru2way-based devices over the course of any 24-month period after July 1, 2009.

Meanwhile, the agreement calls for the formation of an “advisory board,” with representatives from operators, content companies, CE manufacturers and information-technology vendors.

Members of this board will meet at least once a year. If a change to tru2way is being considered, each of the six MSOs will have one vote on whether to accept or reject it. The three other constituencies—content, CE and IT companies—will have one vote apiece, so the cable operators could easily overrule any proposed changes if they voted as a bloc.

The MSOs’ tru2way memorandum of understanding, reported Thursday by industry publication Light Reading, is dated April 25, 2008, and lists executives from Sony and the six cable operators as signatories.

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