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Comcast Thinks Big With ITV

Jeff Baumgartner
10/26/2009

DENVER -- CTAM Summit -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) intends to scale up its interactive television (ITV) platform, with a goal of providing some sort of interactivity on 50 networks by the end of 2010.

The MSO hopes to get there using a handful of relatively standard templates that programmers can use to deliver interactive applications, said Todd Walker, Comcast's senior VP of video product development, during a Monday session covering the ITV opportunities and challenges for cable operators.

Walker didn't spell out which programmers would be part of the 50, or which applications will be involved.

In general, Comcast is planning applications in three categories: apps associated with the live TV stream, including polls and interactive request-for-information (RFI) ads; widgets that aren't bound to the live TV programming (games, sports alerts, weather); and extensions to the interactive program guide (IPG) that could, for example, let customers use their remote controls to sign up for new services.

Scaling up at the CMC
Separately, the Comcast Media Center (CMC) has big ITV plans for HITS AxIS, a centralized, partnership-driven platform for small and mid-sized MSOs. (See CMC Plays Host to iTV.)

HITS AxIS already has 30 interactive applications tested out for cable distribution, according to CMC chief operating officer Gary Traver. Once applications reach that stage, the CMC offers them to its beta customers, which include Buckeye CableSystem , BendBroadband , and Sunflower Broadband , among others. (See Buckeye First to Test 'HITS AxIS' and More MSOs Test 'HITS AxIS'.)

Next year, Traver expects HITS AxIS to support all of the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF)-based interactive advertising templates developed by Canoe Ventures LLC , the cross-MSO advanced ad consortium. (See Cable's Canoe Heads for Scalable Waters and Canoe Preps ITV Ad 'Template' .)

All of this work will factor into a HITS AxIS storefront where MSOs can choose applications and put them on the plant (or take them off) rapidly based on their popularity (or lack thereof). "That's the direction we are going," Traver said, but there's no announced launch plan yet.

Cable is making some business-to-business progress with ITV, but on the consumer front, the industry is nowhere near offering an app store with the size and scale of the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone platform. In fact, cable ITV app developers can expect to go through a lengthy testing process before their products reach a live cable system.

"It's not intentional," said Steve Necessary, Cox Communications Inc. VP of video strategy and product management. He pointed out that cable's digital universe includes a mishmash of guides and box models, while Apple has the benefit of having a uniform platform.

Necessary hopes that broad MSO adoption of two common, open ITV platforms -- EBIF and tru2way -- will speed up applications testing.

Still, complaints arose earlier this year that even EBIF, an interactive system designed to run on any set-top, has integration headaches, because there are more than a handful of EBIF user agents (the software players embedded in the set-tops) on the market. (See TV Apps Teams Face Cable Conundrum.)

Some of those rough edges have apparently been smoothed out during the last seven months. Porting an EBIF app from one agent to another has become "pretty simple," insists Vibha Rustagi, president and CEO of itaas Inc. , a company that heads up developer programs for EBIF and tru2way.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News




Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to TelcoTV 2009, the telecom industry’s premier event for the exploration of a comprehensive entertainment convergence strategy, to be staged in Orlando, Fla., November 10-12. For more information, or to register, click here.


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