Comcast Media Center Buffs Up for EBIF

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading
10/20/2008



The Comcast Media Center (CMC) has added itaas Inc. to an expanding vendor ecosystem that aims to deliver interactive television (ITV) services to small- and mid-sized cable operators.

Under the deal, the CMC and itaas are teaming up to add enhanced television (ETV) applications based on Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) to HITS AxIS, a centralized platform that the CMC introduced in May. (See CMC Plays Host to iTV, Four More Join 'HITS AxIS', and CMC Signs EBIF Partner.)

The CMC plans to push ahead by tapping into the itaas "istart" developer program and the vendor's test tools.

In addition to EBIF, itaas is on board to test applications designed for the more powerful tru2way platform. Itaas already provides tru2way and ETV support for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and TVWorks LLC , the joint venture of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Cox Communications Inc. . (See TVWorks Picks Itaas.)

The CMC, like some individual cable operators, is kicking off ITV initiatives using EBIF, a uniform messaging and signaling system that can run on new tru2way devices as well as millions of older, thin-client digital cable set-tops. (See SureWest Triggers EBIF Strategy .)

The CMC is starting HITS AxIS off with EBIF-based ETV applications because it's a good way to introduce consumers to the concept of interactive television, and because EBIF applies to the largest base of digital cable set-tops. Although tru2way-based TVs and set-tops will enable richer interactive services and applications, they are just now starting to appear in retail markets. (See Denver, Chicago First to Get Tru2way TVs.)

"ETV is the vehicle by which interactivity with the television begins," says Homer Gonzalez, director of products and services for the CMC, and the product manager for HITS AxIS.

Most of that early consumer conditioning will be done with simple, "one-button-push" ETV applications powered by EBIF. "We won't second-guess the MSO," Gonzalez says of the types of applications that the CMC will offer through AxIS. "We are looking at all of them at this point."

Although it's up to the CMC's cable affiliates to decide which ETV applications they want to offer, some early deployment and trial work indicate which ones are the most likely to appear in the market first.

For example, at the recent CableLabs Summer Conference in Keystone, Colo., the CMC showed off five ETV applications running live on the local Comcast plant. Using set-tops from Motorola and Pace Micro Technology , they received applications remotely from the CMC's south-of-Denver facility. Although the mosaic application (video thumbnails of different live programming feeds) was a demo, the others (weather, a "dashboard," and interactive baseball and football offerings) were using live bullets.

Buckeye CableSystem of Toledo, Ohio, is the first operator to agree to beta test the HITS AxIS system and will get started using some of the EBIF applications the CMC showed off in Keystone. (See Buckeye First to Test 'HITS AxIS' .) The CMC expects to start delivering the first sets of ETV apps to the Buckeye headend in the next two weeks, to start vetting out the "on-boarding process." The CMC plans to announce more beta sites in the next few weeks as more agreements are consummated, according to Gary Traver, SVP and COO of the Comcast Media Center.

The CMC expects commercial rollouts of HITS AxIS to start by mid-2009.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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