RealTime IT News

Time Warner to Test Microsoft's iTV Software

The nation's number-two cable operator, Time Warner Cable plans to test out a re-architected version of Microsoft's interactive television software, a spokesman for the cable company said.

The trial is expected to be deployed in Time Warner Cable's division in Beaumont, Texas, said Mark Harrad, spokesman for Time Warner Cable, and will include interactive programming guides that have been developed by Microsoft's television division.

Microsoft already has a similar trial in the works with Comcast , the largest U.S. cable operator, which was announced in June. Microsoft still owns a small percent of Comcast's stock. That trial involves a test of Microsoft's interactive television software, which is part of the software company's new Microsoft TV Foundation it also announced in June.

The new television foundation is now in testing phase of its new platform for enabling cable companies to develop digital programming and services, by providing middleware and software that effectively creates a layer for applications and communications between the consumer's set-top box and servers that reside in cable head ends.

Comcast's and now Time Warner Cable's software trials come as Microsoft seeks to offer new software platforms that help cable operators generate new revenues from their digital cable investments, such as on-screen TV guides, movies-on-demand and new interactive advertisements.

In addition, the cable companies are expected to cast a keen eye on how the Microsoft interactive software platform integrates with its cable technology partners, such as Motorola and Scientific Atlanta, two major providers of digital set-top boxes to the cable industry.

If the Time Warner Cable trial goes well, the deal could be pivotal for Microsoft, said James Brancheau, vice president, media industry research for technology research firm Gartner G2.

Microsoft historically has had a hard time cracking the major MSO (cable operators)" with its interactive and set-top box software, Brancheau said. "Now they've re-architected the whole application and need badly to have it in the field and commercially successful."

That two top players in the U.S. cable market have agreed to test out the software is a big plus on the credibility side for Microsoft, Brancheau said, a deal that is also expected to show whether the software integrates well with other cable television technologies.

"Time Warner Cable is very aggressive and savvy as a technology adopter," Brancheau added. If Microsoft's trial proves out, the result could be a big opportunity to position itself in an interactive television screen after years of efforts and investments in interactive television platforms.

According to Gartner, as of mid-year 2003, 22 million U.S. households were upgraded to digital cable, out of a total base of 66 million cable households in the U.S. (The total household base in the U.S. is 106 million.)

So, the deal gives Microsoft some room to grow as cable providers upgrade their analog systems to digital cable boxes, the basic building block for interactive programming, Brancheau noted.

Microsoft spokesmen were not available by presstime.