CES Opens with Gates

MTV Networks' “Urge” Internet-music service, Starz Entertainment Group LLC's “Vongo” Internet-movie service and CableCARD on the PC all were featured by Microsoft Corp. during Bill Gates' annual opening keynote at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Microsoft's chief architect and two other executives ran though one-dozen new services that will be available during the rest of the "digital decade," as dubbed by Gates, with MTVN, Starz and CableCARD making the cut.

Gates brought out MTVN Music/Logo/Films Group president Van Toffler to showcase its new Urge music subscription service. "Urge offers a customized relationship with music," Toffler said.

Urge will offer 2 million songs and 100 radio stations, allowing consumers to buy songs or albums and to access background information delivered by MTVN.

"Subscribers will drive this service, tell us what they like and hate about the service," Toffler said. "The mission is to create an immersive, entertaining experience."

Urge will also feature hubs for MTV: Music Television, VH1 and Country Music Television.

Toffler demoed a track from Justin Timberlake, then 20 seconds later, Timberlake walked out on stage. "I've always been interested in the newest and coolest thing, and from what I've seen, Urge is going to be it," he said

Joe Bellifiore, a director in Microsoft’s Media Center division, demonstrated Starz’s Vongo service, as well as Microsoft’s new “Vista” operating system that will run CableCARD technology.

Bellifiore showed a Dell Inc. peripheral device, about the size of a cable modem, which featured a cable hookup in the back and a PC connection and CableCARD slot in the front. A CableCARD from local cable operator Cox Communications Inc. enabled Bellifiore to show an HDTV version of Starz’s Aviator on the “Windows Media Center” software.

"We are thrilled to work with cable," Bellifiore said. The CableCARD interface will be available this fall, he added.

But Gates also plugged Microsoft’s partnerships with telcos and direct-broadcast satellite companies.

Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. will roll out Microsoft TV software in 2006 in volume, Gates said. With IPTV, "ads can be targeted to you that are far more relevant. With news shows, you can get more in-depth information. It blows open the limitations of channels."

He continued, “This year our lead customers are rolling out in commercial deployment and will scale up in large numbers. It blows away the previous video platform."

Gates also announced that Microsoft has shipped 6.5 million Media Center PCs, and it will extend that software to DirecTV Inc. DirecTV subscribers can use Media Center software to get their programming on the PC and other portable devices that include Media Center software, he said.