Software, Content Deals Abound at Western Show

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Interactive-television software and content providers spent a lot more time announcing deals with each other than with cable operators at the Western Show. The only announced middleware deal came from Open TV Corp., which disclosed its first U.S. MSO distribution deal with USA Media Group's northern California system, using Motorola Broadband Communication Sector's "DCT-2000" set-top box.

On the financial front, Canal Plus U.S. Technologies announced it had received separate 3 percent investments from Sony Europe and Thomson Multimedia, for a combined $50 million. And Liberate Technologies will create a $50 million investment fund to develop ITV, kicking the fund off with a $7 million investment in Two Way TV, a gaming company.

But other deployment, business or equity deals were scarce in Los Angeles. In the vacuum, ITV providers continued to line up technology partnerships and content suppliers to make their offerings more attractive to cable operators.

Open TV Inc. unveiled Open TV Interactive, a new division that will develop interactive-TV content under the direction of company president James Ackerman. Its recent acquisition of CableSoft Inc., which develops local-content services, will be folded into the program.

At the Western Show, Open TV demonstrated interactive-TV applications using content from Cartoon Network's The Powerpuff Girls
and TBS Superstation's NASCAR coverage. Its partners include ACTV Inc.'s Digital ADCO SpotOn service, WorldGate Communications Inc., Commerce.TV Corp., ICTV Inc., Respond TV and Visiware.

Open TV also announced a deal with SkyStream Networks that will integrate its server and middleware with SkyStream's source media router to deliver ITV content and multicast Internet services to set-tops.

The company also joined with ACTV, Liberty Livewire Corp., Motorola and remote-control provider Universal Electronics Inc. to showcase interactive TV using its software on DCT-2000 boxes.

"Narrowband interactivity can be used as a major marketing tool and will give cable operators a competitive advantage when deploying broadband interactive TV," Liberty Livewire CEO David Beddow said.

Beddow said statistics show 10 percent of primetime TV viewers are online while they're watching. Cable operators should take advantage of that trend, he said.

"Broadband interactivity was always thought of as a single-screen environment," Beddow said. "But the multiscreen environment fills the bill much better. A single screen doesn't work in a multiperson [living-room] environment."

The Canal Plus equity deal will help the middleware provider extend its "MediaHighway" product into Sony and Thomson boxes.

"We're looking at developing branded products for the retail market," said François Carayol, chairman and chief executive officer of Canal Plus Technologies. The first boxes built will be DVB-MHP compliant for the European market, he added.

Canal Plus also was showcasing Universal Music Group's "The Viewing Lounge" broadband programming. Canal Plus and Universal are sister companies under the Vivendi corporate umbrella.

TVL is a broadband, Web-based music video and audio service that appears on Excite@Home Corp. UMG executives are working to port TVL to ITV set-tops.

Liberate Technologies said it would join with Sun Microsystems Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. to develop an ITV Performance Lab to give network operators performance, scalability and reliability information for set-tops, servers and other two-way technologies.

Liberate will scale the lab in three phases, starting with a 25,000-home base, then moving up to 100,000 and eventually 1 million users. The lab will test applications and content delivery from the set-top to a DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) router and headend, to the server and then out to Web-based platforms.

The company also expanded its alliance with NDS Group plc to add the company's interactive-photo application to Liberate's platform. It also added a "TV Ticker" application to its product suite, allowing content providers to deliver ITV news to service providers.

Microsoft Corp. made a series of hardware and software announcements. The company signed a memorandum of understanding to integrate its Microsoft TV platform with Thomson's RCA digital set-tops in North America and Europe. Liberate also signed a similar deal with Thomson.

Microsoft said it would integrate Chyron Corp.'s ITV production and streaming-media products into its "Microsoft TV" and "Windows Media" technologies. In return, the software giant will make a $6 million equity investment in Chyron.

Chyron character generators and graphics systems are widely used in the broadcast-television production industry.

On the content front, Microsoft signed deals to integrate products from gaming company Two Way TV, ACTV, eCity and RespondTV into its Microsoft TV platform.

Pioneer New Media Technologies Inc. said version 3.0 of its Passport Application Suite is available. The software suite allows operators to create interactive program guides, channel banner browsing and pay-per-view/video-on-demand functionality. More than 1 million copies have been deployed.

High Speed Access Corp. signed content distribution deals with Active.com, Golfguide.com, Homestead.com, iSyndicate.com and Shaw Guides.com.

A number of video-on-demand providers forged alliances at the show. nCUBE Corp. said it would work with WorldGate Communications Inc. to use HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) to navigate the Internet over television via DCT-2000 set-tops.

The deal allows WorldGate cable operators to launch VOD services through nCUBE's server and WorldGate's VOD icon. Consumers who click on that icon go directly to nCUBE's VOD library. Subscribers also can link directly to related Web sites.

Gemstar-TV Guide International announced several VOD integration deals at the show. Its nCUBE deal covers the fusion of Gemstar's interactive program guide with the company's VOD service on Motorola 1000, 1200 and 2000 series set-tops.

A similar deal with Concurrent Computer Corp. covers that company's "MediaHawk" VOD system for the same family of Motorola boxes. And SeaChange International Inc. expanded its existing agreement with Liberate to Motorola's DCT-2000 and DCT-5000 boxes.

Video Networks Inc., fresh from a $66 million funding round from Quadrangle Group LLC, Enron Broadband Services, Reuters and PanAmSat Corp., among others, said it would develop a VOD content-delivery system for cable operators.

Headed by former The Weather Channel president Michael Eckert, VNI will build on its national ad-insertion and delivery technology to deliver on-demand content via satellite to local headend servers.

"Our transport system is proven," Eckert said.

VNI will change its name to Pathfire in 2001.

Irdeto Access unveiled its broadband security applications for Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG) video and Internet-protocol/Internet security. The appl cations are designed to help cable operators provide secure television commerce and VOD/PPV payment applications for interactive and broadband services.

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