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Tier 2 MSOs Tee Up 'T-Commerce'

Buckeye CableSystem and a handful of other small and mid-sized cable MSOs will soon offer their TV subs the ability to buy DVDs and other products with the click of a remote via a "t-commerce" application being rolled out by iCueTV Inc. and the Comcast Media Center (CMC) . (See Comcast Rolls Remote Shopping.)

Beginning in mid-December, subscribers on Buckeye, MetroCast Cablevision , Sunflower Broadband , and other Tier 2 operators that use the CMC-hosted HITS Advanced Interactive Services (AxIS) suite of interactive TV applications will be able to buy books, DVDs, CDs, and other knickknacks when they are prompted with overlay ads that will run during programs on national cable networks, iCueTV CEO Patrick Gates told Cable Digital News Wednesday. (See CMC Plays Host to iTV.)

Gates wouldn’t name the networks that are using the company’s t-commerce service, but he said the national programmers would be disclosed before the launch later this month.

The iCueTV rollout marks the first commercial deployment of a t-commerce application by U.S. cable operators. Interactive TV startups such as Respond TV and Commerce.TV hyped the potential of allowing subscribers to buy products with their remote controls in the late 1990s, but the technology failed to get off the ground.

Gates said iCueTV and its cable partners will start off selling small-ticket items like CDs, DVDs, coffee mugs, and bobbleheads. He said bigger ticket items will eventually be sold through t-commerce applications, as well: “If you told me in 1998 people would buy houses and cars on the Internet, I would say you’re crazy."

Initially, national cable programmers will begin selling DVDs and other products through the commercials they run to promote programs, Gates said. The next phase of the t-commerce rollout will see the networks prompt subscribers with t-commerce offers during 30- or 60-second spots.

Small and mid-sized MSOs that use HITS AxIS will be the first to deploy the t-commerce applications, Gates said. But the company is hopeful Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and other MSOs linked to the Canoe Ventures LLC advanced advertising consortium that are deploying interactive TV services through Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF)-enabled set-tops will deploy its product, too.

Earlier this year, Comcast COO Steve Burke said Canoe partners, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Charter Communications Inc. , Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), and Bright House Networks , would reach 25 million EBIF-enabled set-tops by the end of 2009. (See Cable's Canoe Heads for Scalable Waters , Canoe Rows Toward Enhanced TV , and Comcast Clicking With EBIF.)

“We’re hoping to roll it to those [EBIF homes],” Gates said. “CMC is the first contract. We’ll be deployed into that. We want to build the metrics to make sure the consumer experience is right."

Comcast goes wide with 'Shop by Remote'
But Comcast, the MSO, is already making plenty of EBIF and t-commerce progress on its own, announcing late Wednesday the national rollout of "Shop by Remote," an interactive television service that lets subs order products directly from HSN.

The broader deployment, coming online as the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, follows the service's earlier debut on Comcast's San Francisco and Chicago cable systems. Comcast noted it has deployed EBIF-powered iTV apps, including Shop by Remote, in more than 8 million homes so far.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News

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