RealTime IT News

MS-CBS? Microsoft Aligns With Eye Network

CBS Television and Microsoft WebTV Networks Inc. Thursday struck an alliance to jointly deliver interactive television programming, including comedy and dramatic series -- a first in the interactive TV market.

The new alliance is particularly newsworthy given the amount of time and money the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has pumped into its MSNBC alliance with NBC, the subsidiary of General Electric .

CBS Television, a subsidiary of Viacom Inc. , and Microsoft WebTV Networks, a subsidiary of Microsoft Corp. , said the new interactive programming would debut with the start of CBS' 2000-2001 season. The programming will include CBS dramas, comedies, specials, variety shows, movies and sports.

"With the success of 'Survivor' and 'Big Brother,' we've seen how interactive elements can supplement the television viewing experience," said Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Television.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Specific programs which will include interactive elements have not yet been announced, but CBS said it anticipates providing about 500 hours of enhanced programming. WebTV Plus and UltimateTV subscribers will be able to access content on demand including sports-related information, live polling, cast biographies, program updates, e-commerce and chat capabilities.

"We're pushing the envelope for television enhancements," said Joe Poletto, vice president of the Network Media Group at WebTV Networks. "This is particularly important to us because it includes a variety of television genres, which will broaden the appeal of interactive television."

But Jim Penhune, an analyst with The Yankee Group that follows the interactive television industry, said that while he thinks the deal is a good step forward for WebTV he's not sure just how big a step.

"This is just sort of a higher level of commitment from another partner," Penhune said. "Microsoft has been going around for years -- ever since it bought WebTV -- trying to get people interested in enhanced versions of programming."

He said that some television programming -- sports, game shows, interactive advertising, documentaries -- is well suited to enhanced content. He said other types of programming, like comedies or dramas, would seem to be more difficult to compellingly enhance.

"I'm not totally sure how you enhance these shows with more interactive content," he said. However, he noted that the deal could serve as a testbed to see which types of shows will get viewers to get involved through interactive enhancements and which viewers would rather just watch.

Penhune did not think the deal would necessarily hurt Microsoft's relationship with CBS' network rival, NBC, saying, "The fact that one network is [enhancing it's programming with Microsoft] doesn't preclude anyone else from doing it."

Carrie Pendolino, a spokesperson for WebTV Networks, confirmed that the CBS deal shouldn't sour Microsoft's relationship with NBC.

"Our relationship with NBC is strong and we'll probably be doing some more interactive programming with them in the future," she said.

Adam Gelles, president, chief executive officer and chief creative officer of 4th Dimension Interactive Inc., an interactive television consultancy firm, said he thinks the deal will be good for the interactive television industry and for Microsoft in particular. This is the first big network deal for Microsoft, which has been feeling the heat from competitors like Liberate Technologies and OpenTV Inc..

"I think that any kind of interactive