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Rovi Flips Switch on TV Widgets

Rovi Corp. is beginning to add interactive TV applications to its program guides, which could eventually allow millions of subscribers from Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Charter Communications Inc. , and other MSOs to access the apps, which range from eBay on TV to news and weather content.

The company plans to announce today that Blue Ridge Communications has launched its TV Widgets application to cable subscribers in Pennsylvania whod use Rovi's Passport interactive program guide (IPG). Six ITV applications supplied by FourthWall Media Inc. are initially available, including Yellow Pages on TV, eBay on TV, and news, weather, sports, and financial news content.

Rovi's move could help MSOs running its guides compete against Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), which offers more than 20 interactive TV applications through its FiOS TV "Widget Bazaar," including Facebook , Twitter Inc. , YouTube Inc. , and games, news, and weather applications. (See Verizon Adds Twitter, Facebook to FiOS and Verizon Lawsuit Targets Cablevision Boxes, ITV.)

The TV Widgets applications are initially available on the Passport Guide, but VP of vertical marketing Sharon Metz said Rovi is working to integrate the apps, which are based on Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), with cable MSOs that use Rovi's i-Guide.

Rovi struck a deal with FourthWall in February to integrate ITV applications into its guides running on platforms from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Pace plc . (See Rovi, FourthWall Connect on EBIF.)

Set for launch

While Blue Ridge was the first operator to deploy the interactive TV applications, several major MSOs have Passport deployed on set-tops from Cisco and Motorola, including Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox Communications Inc. , RCN Corp. , and Mediacom Communications Corp. .

No other MSOs have announced plans to add interactive widgets to their program guides, but Metz was bullish on the prospects for a wider rollout. "We look forward to bringing the solution to other customers," Metz said.

Rovi also licenses its IPG patents to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which has developed its own version of the i-Guide for its subscribers. (See Rovi Exits Comcast Guide JV.)

None of the social networking applications that Verizon offers FiOS TV customers, such as Facebook and Twitter, are available today through Rovi and FourthWall. But Metz noted that the EBIF platform the firms are relying on would allow third parties to develop and integrate applications with Rovi's program guides.

Rovi, which changed its name from Macrovision last year, took control of the US interactive programming guide sector when it acquired Gemstar-TV Guide in 2008. The company says about 122 million subscribers worldwide use its program guides.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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