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In pursuit of ITV happiness

Mar 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Age: 52.
Title: CEO, Liberate Technologies.
Location: Headquartered in San Carlos, Calif., with offices in Horsham, Pa.; London, Ontario; London; and Tokyo.
Employees: More than 500 employees worldwide.
Customers: AT&T Broadband, AOL, Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, Insight, Rogers, Shaw, Telewest, UPC.
Financial backers: Liberate is a public company (symbol: LBRT). Competitors: MicrosoftTV, OpenTV.
With the advent of set-top interactive television technology, the much-hyped evolution of “infotainment” is fast approaching its final frontier-that of true interactivity between viewer and medium. And Mitchell Kertzman, CEO of Liberate Technologies, is leading the charge for his company’s standards-based software platform to go warp-speed ahead.
Despite his lofty ambitions, Mr. Kertzman is quick to admit that this race for interactive television is not about the technology but rather the type of content that such innovation will enable: “Television has never been about the technology,” he said. “If you ask most people which brand manufactures the cable box on top of their TV set, they don’t know. What people care about is `Survivor’ or `Millionaire.’ That’s why it’s important to us to provide a lot of great content with our platform.”
To that end, Mr. Kertzman sings the praises of his company’s standards-based approach. “Liberate is a fanatical believer in standards,” he said. “It means we offer a certain amount of openness … [our software] can run on any system.”
Mr. Kertzman said there were more than a dozen hardware manufacturers already deploying their set-top systems with Liberate software, with current totals of more than 700,000 systems worldwide. Recent cable broadcast converts include United Pan-Europe Communications-Europe’s largest cable television provider-and AT&T Broadband, which jumped ship from Microsoft’s proprietary Windows-based standard in favor of Liberate’s offering.
“What sets us apart from Microsoft first is our ability to execute and deliver,” Mr. Kertzman said. “[To date], Liberate has successfully deployed a number of systems-Microsoft has not.”
Another of Liberate’s competitors is OpenTV, which, like Microsoft, also provides a proprietary system for content deployment. Again, Mr. Kertzman eschews the virtues of his company’s standards-based system: “[Our system allows developers] to get more content developed faster than with [these companies].” He pointed out that cost is also a factor, as both of Liberate’s competitors force their customers to develop content on their terms using their systems, which tends to be more expensive.
Mr. Kertzman said the kind of interactivity that appeals most to end users is “very much like TV. It depends on who the individual is. For some people, it’s about being able to put the stock ticker on their TV. For other people, it’s about getting information on sporting events. Our software provides the ability for people to get that information.”
The list of developers whose technologies are in line with Liberate’s standards-based system for interactive television-among them America Online, Netscape Communications, Oracle Systems and Sun Microsystems-is a veritable “who’s who” of once and future challengers to Microsoft.
However, Mr. Kertzman is quick to point out that this union is not what it may seem: “This alliance is not built around an opposition to Microsoft, but rather in delivering a complete end-to-end solution to our customers. You’re never going to win customers by being against [the competition], but by being better than [they are].”