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NDS Snags Software Deal from Cox

Conditional-access and interactive-TV provider NDS Group won its first major deal with a U.S. cable operator for its set-top software, as Cox Communications decided to deploy its program-guide technology across both existing and future digital set-tops.

Terms of the deal, including the extent and pace of the rollout, were not disclosed. But NDS, a majority-owned subsidiary of News Corp., said Cox will start deploying its software in 2009 on both Cisco Systems (Scientific Atlanta) and Motorola set-tops, and its software will provide subscribers with a new video user interface for all programming, including linear channels, video-on-demand, digital-video-recorder content and interactive applications. Cox also licenses electronic-program-guide technology from Gemstar-TV Guide International.

“Cox is committed to giving our customers the best in simple, consistent and intuitive navigation,” vice president of video strategy and product management Steve Necessary said in a statement. “NDS has extensive knowledge in the development of advanced applications and user interfaces for multiple platforms. We are looking forward to working with them to deliver world-class services to our customers on a platform capable of supporting tomorrow’s new technologies.”

The Cox deal is significant for NDS, which supplies conditional-access and set-top “middleware” to U.S. satellite operator DirecTV and a bevy of overseas pay TV operators but which so far has counted Cablevision Systems, which uses NDS’ conditional-access technology -- as its sole U.S. cable customer.

According to Steve Tranter, VP of broadband and interactive for NDS, the new user interface it will supply to Cox will be backward-compatible with existing “OnRamp” boxes from SA and Motorola, which use the Java programming language to facilitate interactive applications, as well as forward-compatible with “tru2way-compliant” devices, which are just starting to be deployed in meaningful volume by cable operators.

The NDS user interface will use multiple graphic panels, instead of the traditional grid format, to list programming. It will also support advanced guide functionality such as global search, which allows a subscriber to seamlessly search across VOD, DVR and linear content at the same time.

“It’s more like the PC environment, and it’s much more intuitive from a navigation point of view,” Tranter said.

In the future, the NDS software will also integrate social-networking capabilities that will allow subscribers to recommend content to each other, which seems to be a popular concept among technology vendors as the industry readies for The Cable Show ’08 in New Orleans next week. But giving Cox subscribers a more convenient interface for navigating through the growing amount of VOD content available to them today is the immediate goal.

“We’ve got a roadmap here,” Tranter added. “We’re not trying to deliver everything on day one and bombard the end-user.”