Sunflower Seeks an Edge Via Remote

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Independent cable operator Sunflower Broadband is adding voice-activated remote controls to its arsenal in bid to help combat satellite competition and ease channel surfing for its subscribers.

The Lawrence, Kan.-based operator is the first distributor to say it will commercially deploy AgileTV Corp.’s Promptu product, which allows consumers to navigate hundreds of TV channels and thousands of video-on-demand programming choices with commands such as “find Nip/Tuck” or “scan sports.”

NAVIGATION’S HARD

“One of the emerging problems we saw was one of navigation,” said Sunflower general manager Patrick Knorr. “The more services that are on there, we increasingly get feedback that it’s increasingly difficult to navigate and find what you want among all the choices, and VOD kind of multiplies the problem.”

Charging subscribers $2 per month for AgileTV’s voice-activated remote controls, Sunflower plans to kick off a market trial of Promptu in November in Lawrence, Tonganoxie, Basehor and Piper, Kan., where Knorr said the company faces stiff competition from DBS providers.

Sunflower will begin a commercial deployment of Promptu by summer 2006, Knorr said.

Comcast Corp. has been testing AgileTV’s voice-activated navigation system with some employees in Philadelphia since January. The MSO hasn’t announced plans to commercially deploy the product.

An executive in the cable-industry arena said Comcast has also had talks with Newton, Mass.-based OneVideo Technology, which is pitching cable operators a voice-activated navigation system that would rely on microphones attached to set-top boxes and wouldn’t require a remote or headend software.

OneVideo, which said its product would also allow TV viewers to respond to interactive TV ads, doesn’t have a trial or deployment agreement with Comcast. Spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said OneVideo is one of several vendors the MSO talks to about technology.

AgileTV’s Promptu product runs off of software at the cable-system headend, which receives the voice command picked up from the remote control. AgileTV senior vice president of business development Dave Anderson said it takes about one second for a viewer to change a channel with voice commands.

Knorr said AgileTV will market Promptu with newspaper ads and targeted cross-channel ads. Subscribers will also be able to check out the product at demos at a payment center, and Sunflower’s customer service representatives and door-to-door sales reps will also hawk the voice-activated remote controls.

SUNFLOWER HAS MOXI

Sunflower is a progressive distributor. Last November, it began deploying Digeo Inc.’s Moxi HDTV DVRs, which Knorr says are now in about 600 homes. The bulk of Sunflower’s 30,000 customers use Motorola Corp. set-tops, which use Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.’s i-Guide interactive program guide for channel surfing.

Promptu will initially run on Sunflower’s Motorola DCT-2500 set-tops, and subscribers that get the voice-activated remote controls will use Promptu’s IPG.

Anderson said AgileTV is working to integrate its product with the i-Guide. It should be completed by the second quarter of 2006, he added.

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