RealTime IT News

Microsoft pushes iTV platform

Microsoft Corp. used the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention in Chicago as a platform to announce several content/networking deals Monday for its advanced interactive TV (iTV) platform.

The announcements serve reminder to the high-tech industry that once officials set their sights on a market, it takes a lot to deter the software giant from that goal. It also proves that many companies still consider Microsoft, despite recent setbacks, a viable contender in the iTV industry

Announced Monday was the addition of 10 new participants in Microsoft's content builder initiative (CBI), which was launched in January. Since the initiative was launched, more than 40 companies have signed on to test their offerings on Microsoft's interactive TV software platform. Also announced was the development of hardware that lets viewers record TV shows and set programming.

The latest companies to join the software platform include Excite@Home, FOX Cable Networks and Worldspan LP, a travel planning service. They join companies like Ford Motor Co, E! Networks, CBS and the Weather Channel, which have been CBI members for months.

David Witus, Microsoft TV Group director of content programs, said companies like Worldspan are a perfect example of the services interactive TV can provide.

"Travel content everything from researching trip options to booking complete vacation packages will be a valuable component of the interactive TV environment," Witus said. "We are pleased Worldspan has chosen to futher leverage its experience in delivering personalized travel information over multiple devices by developing travel applications for the Microsoft TV platform."

Besides giving companies a Motorola DCT5000+ box to play with, the CBI lets content developers work with Microsoft technicians to completely integrate the service on the Microsoft platform. Microsoft also has a series of tutorials, ranging from live to online training Webcasts, to help developers.

Reed Moormeier, DTN Weather Services president, has been a CBI participant since earlier this year. The program, he said, has been an invaluable service for the company that provides local weather content over the Web and through an email service.

"Our experience to date participating in the CBI has been invaluable," Moormeier, said. "The CBI, as well as the resources provided through the Microsoft TV Developer Program, has enabled us to develop compelling on-demand weather content that will take advantage of new opportunities provided by upcoming deployments."

Also announced Monday was Broadcom Corp's development of digital video recording and home networking hardware for Microsoft's interactive TV platform. With it, the software company's set-top box can record TV shows (think TiVo) and be programmed to provide specific TV programming to suit the viewer's preferences.

It also turns the interactive TV into a networking hub, letting homeowners connect their PC and peripherals to share a high-speed Internet connection.

It's good news for Microsoft, said Tim Lindenfelser, Broadcom broadband communications business unit vice president and general manager, and gives them another feature to offer network operators.

"The combination of Broadcom's technology with Microsoft TV gives consumer electronics manufacturers and network operators a powerful platform to easily deliver rich interactive TV services to consumers," Lindenfelser said. "This collaboration will help OEMs and network operators more quickly deliver two-way interactive TV applications."

Microsoft officials were surely happy to deliver positive news on the first day of the NCTA convention, after getting blindsided by AT&T Friday.

AT&T, owner of the largest cable network in the U.S., announced its intentions to scale back on an advanced iTV deployment, citing lack of consumer interest.

While Microsoft officials were not available for comment, they could not be pleased with AT&T's decision to look at supporting the cheaper Motorola DCT-2000 platform and the software platform offered by Liberate Technology.

But despite AT&T's apparent defection, many content providers seemed willing to develop services on Microsoft's iTV platform. That includes Excite@Home, a broadband cable Internet provider owned by AT&T.