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Video software

Zodiac Dials Up EBIF Plans

Bracing for U.S. cable’s broad deployment of some simple interactive TV apps next year, Zodiac Interactive has launched an EBIF (Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format) player for PowerTV as well as for the more capable tru2way platform. (See Zodiac Plays EBIF.)

While PowerTV refers to Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)’s native operating system for cable digital set-tops, tru2way is a uniform cable headend and set-top middleware platform that major domestic MSOs are expected to deploy broadly in 2009.

EBIF is a CableLabs -specified messaging and signaling engine for enhanced TV applications that’s designed to run cable’s entire universe of digital set-tops. But don’t get too used to calling it EBIF -- cable’s marketing minds are purportedly working on a more consumer-friendly name for it. (See Renaming EBIF .)

Zodiac’s piece of the puzzle provides a play-out system that accepts the EBIF commands and displays them on the TV screen. The Valley Stream, N.Y.-based company also announced a partnership with Ensequence Inc. , which has developed authoring tools that MSOs, programmers, and other content providers can tap to create apps for the EBIF environment.

Cable operators are already forging ahead with EBIF deployment plans. Among some of the larger MSOs, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) expects to have EBIF “enabled” in 10 million homes by the end of this year and in all of its Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)-based systems by mid-2009. Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), which is already licensing an EBIF client from BIAP Systems Inc. , expects to have the technology running on all its digital boxes sometime next year. (See Comcast, TWC Plan for EBIF and TWC, BIAP Sign EBIF Deal.)

Comcast’s EBIF client is being developed by TVWorks LLC , a joint venture with Cox Communications Inc. . However, TVWorks is not expected to package and sell that player to other MSOs.

How does Zodiac fit in?
But, with all of those deals and partnerships already in play, where does that leave Zodiac?

Thanks to a focus on PowerTV, roughly 40 percent of the set-tops already deployed can use Zodiac’s EBIF player, says Alexander Libkind, Zodiac’s COO.

While Zodiac is not focused on the legacy Motorola set-top software environment, Zodiac could play a role as operators configure their Motorola networks for tru2way, he adds.

Although Cox and Comcast appear to have their EBIF player needs sewn up for their legacy set-top environments, “I believe [both] would benefit from our player from the perspective of tru2way,” Libkind says, noting that Zodiac’s EBIF player implementation for tru2way takes up just 756 kilobytes of set-top memory. “It’s probably the most efficient player on the market today,” he claims.

Zodiac’s EBIF player for PowerTV is commercially available, and some unannounced trials are already underway.

Its EBIF player for tru2way is slated to be ready by the first quarter, showing up as MSOs hustle to get their networks ready for the uniform system. According to a tru2way memorandum of understanding (MOU) originally negotiated in tandem with Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), the top six “incumbent” U.S. MSOs (except for Charter Communications Inc. ) are on the hook to have their networks ready for tru2way in all their digital cable systems by July 1, 2009. Those MSOs have also committed to include tru2way middleware in 20 percent of new interactive set-tops they purchase after that date. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU.)

Meanwhile, Canoe Ventures LLC , the cross-MSO “services bureau,” is leaning heavily on EBIF for some of its advanced advertising applications. (See Canoe Ventures: What It Is, What It Ain't and Canoe Ventures Paddles Ahead.)

“EBIF is really capturing the imagination of operators, networks, and content producers because it’s a unifying standard,” says Libkind

But he expects EBIF to spawn scores of non-advertising applications, including news, sports, and weather widgets, as well as polls and other apps that allow viewers to “play along” with the shows they are watching.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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