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Telewest Finds Gaming Partner for Broadband Interactive Platforms

London-Telewest Communications plc and Scottish video game producer VIS Entertainment have formed a joint venture to develop interactive fare for the U.K. MSO's digital-cable platform.

VIS, founded in 1996, has produced such titles asHedzandEarthworm Jimfor the gaming-console market. Over the next year, Telewest and VIS will each invest roughly £2 million ($2.9 million) in the 50-50 partnership, called VIS iTV.

The investment reflects the U.K. interactive community's widespread belief that games will be one of the engines driving interactive-TV rollouts. According to market-research firm Datamonitor, interactive digital television will reach 50 percent of European homes by 2005.

Similarly, investment bank HSBC predicts the number of online gamers in the U.S. and Europe-now at 8 million-will reach 73 million by 2004.

VIS iTV received its first round of programming commissions from VIS, but is free to work for third parties. A Telewest spokeswoman said the operator "expected [product] delivery in early 2001, with demonstrations planned for Milia," an industry trade show held in February.

Following delivery, Telewest gets exclusive use of the product for six months on its Active Digital digital-cable platform and Blueyonder broadband-Internet service. After that period, VIS iTV may offer the programming to rival digital platforms.

A VIS iTV spokesman said it was "too early" to speculate about any deals with other digital platforms.