New program set for Pioneer guide

Sep 23, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Pioneer plans to launch Monday a third-party developers program for its Passport interactive program guide. The company hopes the program, known as Compass, will foster the growth of interactivity and the use of its guide.
Since Passport runs on Scientific-Atlanta, Motorola and Pioneer boxes, the program will be the first of its kind for an IPG that operates across multiple platforms, said Neil Jones, senior VP, Pioneer Digital Technologies.
Pioneer, often the odd man out in the Motorola/S-A set-top box duopoly, has finally deployed enough boxes to provide the momentum necessary to formalize such a program. Pioneer has grown its presence in the IPG market from about 500,000 copies in April 1999 to more than 5 million today, which include 3.8 million on S-A boxes and Pioneer boxes and 1.3 million on Motorola boxes.
The company has offered developer integration on an ad hoc basis since it first introduced its guide. “We’ve reached a critical mass, where third-party developers will be interested, and MSOs will be more inclined to support them,” Mr. Jones said.
Traditionally, integrating an application with a guide or a box has been a chicken-and-egg situation, he said. Cable operators have needed to back up the developer with a deployment plan for the application, while the guide makers needed the multiple system operator’s seal of approval before they invested the resources into development. The Compass program opens up the process regardless of whether a specific MSO is willing to roll out the application. “We want to give everyone [third-party developers] a chance to say, `We are Pioneer compatible.”’
The purpose of the program is to create a seamless experience for IPG users so that different applications can run while the guide is running, much in the same way that PC users can have multiple windows open on a computer at the same time. “If we have a third-party application running in a box, you still want to be able to hit a button and bring up the guide. If we didn’t integrate with Passport, you would have to quit Passport, go into the VOD application, run that, then quit that to go back to the IPG,” he said.
The formalization of the developers program involves two main components: documentation and a seal of approval. “We provide all the documentation, the API [application program interface] set that tells the application developer how you need to co-exist with Passport,” Mr. Jones said. Previously, this process occurred between two engineers banging heads.
The second element is a certification method so that a developer receives a stamp of approval to present to the MSO. “It gives the vendor much more credence when they approach the MSO. We’ve talked with several ITV vendors. It’s been a tough space for them because they need to deploy to sustain a business. And very few have been able to get past limited beta tests. We hope this allows vendors more confidence and credence in going to MSOs,” he said.
It’s surprising there aren’t more developer programs specifically for IPGs, said Jim Stroud, media analyst with Blackbird Communications. An IPG is a prime opportunity to push content to consumers, be it games, videos or advertisements, and integrating third-party vendors is essential in that effort. “Pioneer, by releasing this, probably understands that the IPG world is changing very quickly and becoming more like a portal,” he said. “The important thing for Pioneer is if they can get a head start in developing some of these programs, then they have strengthened their position,” he said.
Still, the IPG battle is really a two-horse race between S-A and Gemstar and everyone else is at least 40 lengths behind, said Bruce Leichtman, analyst with the Leichtman Research Group. “How much closer does it push you to the lead?” he asked. “I think it’s smart for someone that far behind to distinguish themselves as being an alternative,” he said.
Scientific-Atlanta has had a developer’s program since 1998 called the Creative Edge certification program. It is geared for its complete interactive program platform, which includes S-A’s IPG.