Thinking outside the box

Apr 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Interactive television infrastructure company Scientific-Atlanta is preparing to announce several new relationships that the set-top and fiber-optic network creator has established to expand its presence in the interactive content community.
Scientific-Atlanta is poised to become a major player in the American interactive TV marketplace on the strength of its majority stake
in interactive TV operating-system maker PowerTV and some recently inked set-top sales contracts with multiple system operator Time Warner Cable. The company has added Internet-on-television architect MetaTV as a partner in its CreativEdge certification program for interactive software producers.
CreativEdge is a new Scientific-Atlanta program designed to help the technology company shape the course of the emerging American
interactive TV industry. Through the initiative, Scientific-Atlanta certifies interactive TV software developers to create technologies capable of running on its Explorer line of set-top devices.
“We know all the quirks in our platform,” said Jenifer Cistola, director of Scientific-Atlanta’s CreativEdge platform.
Software powerhouse Microsoft, which has gained notoriety for placing its stamp on the entire PC operating-system business, has established a similar content developer program for interactive TV producers.
MetaTV, the newest addition to CreativEdge, is a start-up that creates walled gardens, or pared-down versions of the World Wide Web that run on television set-top boxes. MetaTV, whose Internet portals are designed to complement the more comprehensive interactive TV middleware from Liberate Technologies and Microsoft or OpenTV and Gemstar-TV Guide’s electronic programming guides, has yet to announce any contracts with major American MSOs. Its software is being tested, however, in a trial initiated by satellite Internet service provider Pegasus Communications.
“Our end product is similar to what Digeo Broadband does,” said Ramon Chen, MetaTV’s director of marketing. Digeo’s walled garden will be woven into an interactive TV service that will be offered to Charter Communications’ cable subscribers later this year.
“The difference between us and an electronic programming guide is that an electronic programming guide focuses on television listings, whereas we’re focusing on news, sports and weather,” Mr. Chen said.
While MetaTV’s technology reformats Internet content to make it compatible with television set-top systems, the company is careful to keep its interactive television content Internetlike in appearance to avoid infringing on Gemstar-TV Guide’s patents for electronic programming guides, Mr. Chen said.
To date, MetaTV has raised $11 million in venture capital, with Redpoint Ventures taking the lead in the investments. The software purveyor is seeking another round of financing.
Although some American cable operators are planning to launch interactive services, CreativEdge’s Ms. Cistola believes media companies’ concerns about protecting their traditional entertainment vehicles in the face of technological upheaval have impeded the growth of the interactive television marketplace in the United States.
“There’s been a slowdown of studios signing deals,” Ms. Cistola said. “Viacom, in particular, owns Blockbuster. Their biggest fear is am I going to steal from a system that’s already working-DVDs-and give it over to the cable operator?”
To help dispel traditional television studios’ fears, Scientific-Atlanta will hold a forum for television programming executives May 15. Representatives from Showtime and ESPN’s cable networks will be among those invited to the forum, Ms. Cistola said.
Studios who create Scientific-Atlanta-compatible content will be able to showcase their interactive creations to an audience of at least one major MSO’s subscribers. Late last year, Scientific-Atlanta announced that Time Warner Cable had ordered 100,000 of its Explorer 8000 advanced set-top boxes.