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Content Providers Juggle Platforms

The phenomenon commonly referred to as
"convergence" is fast becoming a maze of diverging technologies and formats for
those producing interactive-TV content.

Some content providers find the multiplicity of different
operating environments from companies like Wink Communications Inc., WorldGate
Communications Inc., @Home Network and Interactive Channel to be a learning experience.
But many still hope for a single development platform, so that they don't have to
"repurpose" their programming.

Cable News Network's CNN Interactive (CNNin) is one of
several cable programmers taking a proactive stance on interactive content, and it has
quickly found that "each [platform] is slightly different," said Mark Bernstein,
vice president and general manager of CNNin.

Still, Bernstein and other networks, like The Weather
Channel, do not consider programming for the half-dozen of so formats as burdensome -- so

"We're learning for the next generation,"
Bernstein said. "We want to be the preferred provider [of news] for our
customers," whether those customers are viewing news in the office, on the couch or
in an airport. "We don't want them turning to another provider of news."

TWC also considers the current plethora of interactive
options to be a learning tool, said Karen Lennon, director of business development/new
media for the network.

"We're hoping to learn as much as we can in a
very short period of time," Lennon said.

Like CNNin, TWC is entrenched in relationships with a
number of interactive-television providers. Lennon said developing content for the various
interactive-TV formats is similar to authoring for the different Web browsers.

It can be as easy as inserting simple code into the
vertical blanking interval that links to a Web URL (its address), "all the way up to
all of the data being inserted into the VBI," she said.

Lennon acknowledged that the interactive-TV market is
currently segmented, but, she pointed out, "the earlier we gain an understanding of
these things, the better."

Miguel Garcia, vice president of software development for
CNNin, counted among his challenges the early development of a content-management system.
That way, he said, CNN can produce content once and repurpose it multiple times. It was
important, Garcia said, to "detach the content-production process from the
distribution process," by putting a content-management system in the middle.

For each of the formats for which CNNin delivers content,
it has established a series of profiles based on the format, the look and feel and the
delivery schedule, Garcia said.

TWC's participation in the various interactive-TV
formats, Lennon said, lets the company see "what types of content people choose to go
interactive with."

Bernstein cited Intel Corp.'s "Intercast"
service, which is delivered over the VBI, as one clear example of information blending
with TV programs.

"Whether Intercast is the ultimate solution -- which I
probably think it will not be -- we can learn a lot from Intercast and Wink as we get to
those ultimate solutions," Bernstein said.

Despite the willingness of programmers to repurpose their
content for various flavors of interactive TV, there is still an underlying desire for

"The big promise," Lennon said, "is that we
author it once and distribute it everywhere."

But, she added, it's too early to pick interactive-TV
winners and losers. "You really can't count people out" this early in the
new resurgence of interactive programming, she said.

Bernstein, also a "big proponent" of
standardization, said CNN is already participating in a variety of industry associations
to push a common content-authoring environment for broadband interactivity. The aim there,
he said, "is to spend more time enriching our content and less time reformatting our