ESPN, Liberate Team on iTV Rollout

Sports cable channel ESPN is readying a new slew of interactive and
on-demand features for cable customers of Insight Communications with the
help of interactive television middleware maker Liberate Technologies .

The new offerings include a package called “ESPN Today Plus VOD,” which
features interactive sports information and advertisements. Viewers will be
able to click through data feeds during sports broadcasts and link to
commerce and advertising pitches.

ESPN, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co. , already provides some interactive content to subscribers via direct
satellite broadcaster DirectTV. The current arrangement with cable provider
Insight comes on the heels of a similar VOD enhanced content package with
Cablevision Systems , which ranks among the most
aggressive cable operators in rolling out enhanced interactive services.

The video-on-demand products are to be integrated with Liberate VOD Hub
middleware, which helps viewers order short form and long form VOD content
and “tailor” the extent of on-demand content they want to download.

In addition, the enhanced features include sports stats and interactive
ticker information that viewers can see while watching ESPN’s

The ESPN alliance comes at a difficult time for the cable industry and, by extension, iTV
software makers such as the San Carlos, Calif.-based Liberate. With Philadelphia cable provider Adelphia Communications staggering toward bankruptcy after revelations that it was
liable for about $3 billion worth of debt it kept off its balance sheet, the
whole industry’s accounting practices have become suspect as well.

Insight Communications is the 9th largest cable
operator in the United States, serving approximately 1.4 million customers.

Messages with an Insight spokesperson regarding how the enhanced
interactive services would be priced were not returned by presstime. A call
to a Liberate spokesman for comment was not returned.

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