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 [email protected], 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
[email protected], a broadband cable Internet provider owned by AT&T.

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