Cable Show 2010: Comcast, Itaas Port EBIF Agent To Cisco Boxes

Comcast and Itaas have completed development work on an Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) user agent for Cisco Systems, paving the way for the biggest U.S. cable operator to deploy a standard interactive TV platform nationwide.

To date, Comcast has deployed EBIF user agents in its Motorola systems to 12 million subscriber homes -- representing more than 20 million set-top boxes -- and expects to begin trials of the newly ported user agent in its Cisco footprint later this year.

"We're using EBIF to help our customers enjoy new ways of interacting with the programming and services on their televisions, like caller ID, and this is an important step in being able to bring these types of enhanced experiences to even more people," Mark Hess, Comcast's senior vice president of advanced business and technology development, said in a statement. "Itaas continues to be a terrific partner in helping us efficiently and effectively support EBIF on as many set-top types as possible."

EBIF is the CableLabs specification that Canoe Ventures, the advanced-advertising company owned by Comcast and next five largest U.S. MSOs, is using to introduce its initial interactive advertising product, a request-for-information capability that will let viewers request coupons, samples or information using their TV remotes.

On Monday, a coalition of cable industry groups -- led by Canoe -- announced an effort to brand interactive TV services as "SelecTV."

The Itaas/Comcast EBIF user agent for Cisco set-tops is built on the EBIF engine developed by TVWorks LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast. Through a licensing agreement with TVWorks, Itaas offers other MSOs an EBIF deployment package for use with Motorola set-top boxes that includes a license, deployment support and maintenance services.

Itaas CEO Vibha Rustagi said the development and integration work to port the TVWorks EBIF agent for Motorola set-tops to Cisco took 8 to 12 months. "It was a fairly complex undertaking," she said. "We had to understand what [the user agent] does and make changes to it."

The EBIF user agent is compliant with version of I05 of the CableLabs spec and works with the iGuide interactive program guide, which is maintained by Comcast's joint venture with Rovi.

At the Cable Show this week, Itaas will show a sample EBIF application using the TVWorks user agent on Cisco, Motorola and Pace set top boxes, as well as other demos including a 3DTV concept application.

Atlanta-based Itaas provides a range of software design, development, integration and support services for MSOs, programmers, application developers and other technology vendors. The company's istart developer program offers software tools and support for Time Warner Cable's Mystro Digital Navigator and OCAP Digital Navigator, Cisco's SARA/PowerTV and OCAP Axiom, FourthWall Media's EBIF user agent and the TVWorks ETV platform.