Cablevision Wants Its Own DTV Guide

Shunning top interactive program guide vendor Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. is developing its own IPG for its digital-cable rollout next month.

Though the Sony Corp. advanced digital set-tops Cablevision will use for the deployment are some of the most feature-rich boxes available today, sources said the IPG Cablevision will offer subscribers is fairly elementary when compared with Gemstar's TV Guide Interactive product.

One source familiar with the company's plans described the IPG as a "teletext service" that will offer channel-listing information over several pages.

The guide will list channel and program information. But the subscriber will have to punch in specific channel numbers in order to channel-surf. That contrasts with TV Guide Interactive, which allows subscribers to click on a highlighted program to move to a particular channel, a source said.

"They [Cablevision] would be honest to say they don't consider it a guide. It's a listings service. To call it a guide would be a little bit of a stretch," the source added.

Cablevision spokesman Keith Cocozza said the MSO isn't ready to comment on the guide it will offer subscribers in the digital rollout, which is scheduled to begin at the end of September.

Gemstar co-president Peter Boylan took a few shots at Cablevision for its IPG plans last week during an earnings call with analysts.

"Cablevision is planning on offering its valuable customers what we consider a poorly conceived IPG that was clearly designed by lawyers in an attempt to work around our patents," Boylan said during the call. "We remain confident that this cannot be done without a disastrous user experience."

But even if the guide doesn't offer the same features as TV Guide Interactive, sources said Cablevision doesn't expect a backlash, since most of its subscribers won't know the difference. The MSO currently offers the passive, scrolling TV Guide Channel to its analog subscribers, so it doesn't expect to encounter legacy issues when it initiates the switch, the sources explained.

One source said that the MSO will consider guides from other vendors, and that it does plan to upgrade the IPG sometime after it rolls out the digital package.

Last year, four MSOs and WorldGate Communications Inc. formed their own IPG joint venture in an attempt to keep Gemstar's license fees competitive.

But three of the MSOs in the TVGateway consortium — Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Adelphia Communications Corp. — have since signed long-term deals to offer the majority of their subscriber TVGuide Interactive. And Boylan told analysts last week he's working on a similar deal with Cox.

Cablevision's IPG move is the latest example of how the company likes to march to the beat of its own Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular
drummer, compared to other cable operators. The MSO surprised the industry in September of 1999 when it placed the $1 billion set-top order with Sony. Almost every other operator relies on Motorola Corp. or Scientific-Atlanta Inc. for set-top boxes.

Moreover, Cablevision is the only top-10 MSO that isn't a member of Cable Television Laboratories Inc., the industry's research and development consortium that helps set technology standards.