ITV Moves Closer to Center Stage

San Francisco— The influx of digital video recorders into cable homes is helping drive ITV applications today and should spur progress on the OpenCable Applications Platform down the road.

That was the consensus view among executives on an ITV panel session at the National Show last week.

Although the U.S. market is playing catch up to some extent versus the rest of the world, some interactive applications are found in 4 million domestic homes today, according to Navic Networks chairman and chief technology officer Chet Kanojia.

Mike Hayashi, senior vice president of advanced technology and engineering at Time Warner Cable, ticked off the list of ITV companies the MSO has tested or deployed, including BIAP Systems Inc., Navic, Bluestreak Network Inc., ICTV Inc., Buzztime, GoldPocket Interactive and Zodiac Gaming.

“The DVR set-top boxes are very capable of running richer and richer applications,” he said. Operators will be able to use the ample hard-drive space to download role playing games that require more memory that parlor games. Time Warner Cable is closing in on 1 million DVRs deployed.

OCAP developments also will help the ITV space, he said, by creating a national footprint for application developers.

Gaming could be a strong application. The MSO launched a test with ICTV in a small Texas system that included games, local news, children’s programming and customer care interactive applications, Hayashi said. All content was free to the 3,000 subscribers.

Over the course of a year, 82% of subscribers accessed the service, including 27% within the past 30 days, he said. The average number of visits per subscriber to the ITV menu was 81 over the course of the year, including an average of 15 over the past month.

OpenTV chairman and CEO Jim Chiddix said cable operators need to look at adding interactivity to today’s set-tops. “OCAP is for boxes not yet in the field,” he said. “Today, every operator is doing something completely different on legacy boxes. That will make things move slowly.”

He pointed to OpenTV’s deal with Playboy Entertainment Inc. to add interactivity to content for every distribution outlet.

“The hard part of that will be the legacy boxes on cable,” he said. “The easy part is DBS. Middleware is the answer.”

Chiddix said United Kingdom direct-to-home provider British Sky Broadcasting plc, which uses OpenTV middleware, generates $80 million a year in ITV revenue.

Hayashi pointed out that OCAP is based on a Java environment, which programmers are familiar with. That should make it easier for those companies to develop interactive applications.