RealTime IT News

MS-CBS? Microsoft Aligns With Eye Network

CBS Television and Microsoft WebTV Networks Inc. struck an alliance today 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."

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 TV play is important in the industry right now," he said, adding that the deal keeps the profile of interactive TV on the front burner. "It definitely will accelerate some of the content development process."

That, Gelles said, is an essential element of getting networks and advertisers to throw their weight behind interactive TV. He said the advertisers will not get involved until they see at least several million viewers tuning in to an interactive television experience. WebTV Networks, which uses set-top boxes to deliver content to subscribers through cable or satellite, has just more than 1 million subscribers.

"The challenge for all these companies are really rollout issues," he said. "Advertisers won't get involved until the rollout is there."