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Microsoft Lands First IPG Subs

Microsoft Corp. inked its first deal to roll out its new stand-alone interactive programming guide with a pair of Oregon cable operators.

Beginning in the first quarter 2003, Microsoft TV will roll out its IPG to digital subscribers with Uvision LLC and Willamette Broadband LLC, two cable operations serving 20,000 customers in Canby, Woodburn, Stayton and Sheridan, Ore., just south of Portland.

The guide will replace the operators' existing service provided by Gemstar TV-Guide International Inc.

Microsoft's IPG is designed to work on boxes with limited processing, including Motorola Inc.'s DCT 1000. In addition to scrolling and channel tuning, the guide supports new services such as video-on-demand.

While modest, it is a first deployment for the IPG unveiled this past June at the National Show in New Orleans.

"I think we will have a level of exposure to the product to the real world with them that we wouldn't have with some other bigger operators — and to be able to really see what are the effects on customer satisfaction, churn and all of that stuff that everyone in the industry is dying to know," Microsoft TV Platform Group director Ed Graczyk said.

Willamette and Uvision will actually roll out an updated version of the IPG, one that includes support for additional languages including Spanish.

The next update will integrate VOD content and is expected to be unveiled at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. That upgrade will include reminders for unviewed VOD titles, plus a purchase history for on-demand content. It likely will be available for deployment some time in mid-2003, and will be part of a second phase rollout for Willamette and Uvision, Graczyk said.

The Oregon rollout also marks a subtle change in Microsoft TV's marketing aim for the IPG product.

"To be honest, we hadn't really focused on the smaller cable operators until not too long ago," Graczyk noted. "With such a big market, it seemed logical to focus on the bigger guys, but now we have kind of expanded that."

Overall, the software giant's TV unit is hoping for a more cheerful 2003.

"I think it will be definitely a little warmer than in 2002, which is going from zero to something," Graczyk said. "I don't think it will be the breakout year, but I do think we will see some more deal announcements and some bigger MSOs start to do deployments."