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Cox Puts NDS at Heart of Tru2way Plan

Jeff Baumgartner
3/23/2009

Cox Communications Inc. has contracted NDS Group Ltd. to develop a broad slate of interactive applications for the MSO's rapidly approaching deployment of tru2way , the operator announced Monday. (See Cox, NDS Team on Tru2way .)

NDS is to port Cox's existing interactive television applications over to tru2way, a CableLabs -specified platform based on common set-top software and headend elements that paves the way for interactive, cable-ready retail devices. (See MSOs Open Up on Tru2way and Denver, Chicago First to Get Tru2way TVs.)

The deal covers 20 set-top applications, including: email; sports and weather news widgets; some simple games; local lottery results and movie info; video channel "mosaics"; TV-based caller ID; and some customer care applications that, for example, enable subscribers to order premium channels or upgrade services with the click of a remote. NDS is set to have the applications ported to tru2way by the summer.

Cox is running the current iteration of those applications on an early version of "OnRamp," a lighter middleware that's designed to be forward-comparable with the full version of tru2way.

"Here [with NDS] we're porting these applications specifically to the tru2way set of APIs [application platform interfaces]," says Lisa Pickelsimer, Cox's executive director of video product development.

Pickelsimer insists the porting of existing applications represents just the start of what will be capable with tru2way: "We're putting in place a platform that we think will give us the flexibility to offer lots of new applications and do [that] more quickly than we have been able to in the past."

In addition to making the interactive TV applications tru2way-ready, they're also being "reskinned" to conform to the look and feel of the new interactive program guide/navigation system that NDS and Cox are developing for high-end set-top boxes with high-definition and DVR capabilities. Details of the Cox-NDS guide deal emerged about a year ago. (See NDS Navigates Its Way Into Cox.)

"The difference to the users will be very clear," says NDS general manager of sales Jesper Knutsson of the new guide. But we'll have to take his word on that for now, because NDS and Cox, in an effort to keep the competition guessing, are still refusing to share screenshots of the new navigation system.

Still, the idea is to integrate applications with the guide, rather than just "bolting" them on. "This guide is really all about usability and making it simple and getting users to various amounts of content we offer… and get out of their [the subscribers'] way," Pickelsimer says.

Cox setting the stage for tru2way
The NDS deal emerges as Cox gets its digital networks outfitted for tru2way. Per a binding memorandum of understanding negotiated with Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Cox and several other major MSOs agreed to tru2way-enable their networks by July 1, 2009. Those MSOs have also committed to include tru2way middleware in 20 percent of new set-tops they purchase after July 1. (See Sony Supports tru2way and Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)

Cox is on track to have the tru2way infrastructure in place by mid-year. "Tru2way is an initiative we're 100 percent behind… and [one that's] important strategically to us as a company," Pickelsimer says.

However, the MSO has not yet identified where it first intends to offer tru2way-enabled services. Those decisions will hinge on several "internal factors," including other initiatives Cox systems might already have on their respective plates, according to Pickelsimer.

Cox, however, has already introduced "OnRamp" in markets including Oklahoma City, Cleveland, and Northern Virginia.

Cox intends to support digital TVs and other tru2way devices sold at retail, and lease tru2way-capable boxes from its primary suppliers, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT).

For NDS, the tru2way applications deal solidifies its ambitions for the U.S. cable market. Among other significant domestic efforts, New York-based Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) is relying on NDS for some of the core technology tied to a controversial downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) the MSO intends to deploy on all new set-tops by the end of 2009. (See Nagra Critical of Cablevision Security Plan, CEA Chirps at Cablevision Set-Top Request , and Cablevision Seeks Extended Security Waiver.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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