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Buzztime Advances Gaming Platform

Buzztime Entertainment Inc. last week signed its first interactive gaming deal with a cable operator, inking a pact with Susquehanna Communications.

The company announced at the Western Show last week that it will launch a competitive trivia contest game in the MSO's home market of York, Pa., in February.

The agreement comes as Buzztime looks to capitalize on operator interest in interactive gaming applications to drive revenue and reduce digital churn. The company also said that it is close to several cable operator rollouts on Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s Explorer 2000 platform. That would enable it to reach 6 million homes.

Buzztime is the brand name of the NTN Communications trivia game that's played in 3,500 bars and restaurants. Customers play against each other and patrons in other locations across the country for prizes.

Buzztime downloads the trivia application to a rooftop dish at the bar or restaurant, then sends the content via cable to a PC that functions as a local server. An Internet dial-up return path provides access to the scores of players across the country.

The cable setup will be similar. Trivia games will be downloaded via phone lines from the company's central server in Carlsbad, Calif., to a small S-A server in an operator's headend, said Tyrone Lam, president of Buzztime Entertainment. S-A has written the application that will send the trivia game to the its set-top.

Buzztime is offering operators trivia in a variety of categories, and will expand its offerings in the future, Lam said. Among topics available at the outset: general, kids, music, TV, movies, sports and history.

The company culls content from a database of 100,000 questions. Players answer one trivia question per minute in a 15-minute game. After each answer, the viewer will be able to see how their score ranks against others in the system. Once the game ends, the player will see how his or her score stacks up against other cable players nationwide.

Buzztime initially will be available only on S-A set-tops. S-A took a 6 percent, $1.5 million stake in the company earlier this year. Lam said Buzztime is working with Motorola Inc. and Liberate Technologies to port the application on to the DCT-2000 series, but is dealing with memory and back channel issues.

The company is offering operators several business models that center around a $3 per month retail price point. The first model encompasses a base license fee based on the number of digital subscribers for one trivia game. Additional trivia content would be part of the $3 premium tier, where Buzztime and operators would split revenue.

A second option being discussed is MSO's retaining large share of the price tag, in exchange for substantial marketing support. Still a third option, Lam said, is packaging basic and premium content into one package for the operator.

Among 3,500 Buzztime restaurant players surveyed, the company found that 72 percent were cable subscribers while 36 percent had digital packages, double the national average. More than half of those digital subscribers said they would pay an additional monthly fee to play Buzztime trivia games at home, with 60 percent of those saying they'd pay $3 per month. Some 20 percent said they'd even pay $6 per month, Lam added.

He plans to use local bars and restaurants as promotional partners in an areas where operators launch the service. For instance, in-home competitions could culminate in face-to-face tournaments at a bar or restaurant that could attract media attention and local sponsorship support, Lam said.

Buzztime said it also will work with operators on local advertising plans that can be integrated between questions within the game.