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RCN Adds 'Cool' New ITV Platform in Chicago

RCN Corp. has launched a new interactive platform powered by software from NDS Corp. on its Chicago system and is considering expanding the rollout to other markets.

The Chicago system upgraded to a "Starview" interactive programming guide, which looks like a mosaic and allows viewers to choose from a grid of live video feeds from the networks on the system.

Vivendi Universal S.A.'s Canal Plus pay-TV system in France uses a similar IPG.

RCN counts about 80,000 cable customers in Chicago, where last week it was reported to have missed a $215,000 payment to the city for local-access support. RCN got into the Chicago market by buying out 21st Century Telecom, and in September 2002 paid the city about $660,000 in past-due access-support charges.

Through its "Digital City"-branded Chicago platform, RCN also offers customers a portal that gives them access to interactive applications including horoscopes and casino games such as video poker, roulette and blackjack.

Within a year, RCN might give subscribers the ability to play multiplayer games on the platform, which runs on digital set-tops manufactured by South African firm UEC Technologies, RCN vice president of video product management Bobbie Herbs said.

Were laws passed that allow viewers to place bets on the casino games, RCN would consider offering the real gambling option to its subscribers, Herbs added.

Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., RCN's interactive program guide vendor, is supplying the TV listings data for the Starview guide.

Herbs said RCN would consider expanding the Digital City and interactive offerings from NDS to other systems. "I think the way we're treating this is to look carefully at the rollout of the NDS Core product and if the points of differentiation are successful in driving [subscriber] acquisition and retention," Herbs said. "Then we'll analyze if we take it to additional markets or not."

RCN also launched the NDS VideoGuard conditional-access system in Chicago, along with its NDS Core middleware and StreamServer digital-broadcasting management system.

Herbs said the NDS technology is an open platform, which will allow RCN to easily add a variety of interactive applications from different vendors.

One of the biggest differences subscribers will see with the new system is the IPG. "Our Starview mosaic guide is a really cool feature that helps us differentiate ourselves from our competitors, and it will hopefully drive additional revenue in the long run," Herbs said.

The Chicago system also offers customers high-speed data services with download speeds of up to 5 Megabits per second.