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Verizon Runs Olympics Interactive-TV Trial

Verizon Communications, co-opting a key technology developed by the cable industry, is trialing an interactive-TV application in its Portland, Ore., market that provides FiOS TV customers live information from the Olympic Games on MSNBC.

The application, based on CableLabs' Enhanced Television Binary Interchange Format specification, was developed for NBC Universal by interactive TV vendor Ensequence.

Verizon director of interactive TV Rachelle Zoffer said the Olympics application is the first “wide-scale” deployment of EBIF, although she would not say how many subscribers the telco has in the market. FiOS TV first became available in December 2007 in Portland, where Comcast is the dominant cable operator.

The app lets MSNBC viewers access real-time Olympics news from Beijing, medal counts by country, and bios of U.S. athletes.

EBIF is a least-common-denominator interactive TV technology that is designed to run on even the lowest-end set-top boxes. Cable's Tru2way technology, formerly called OpenCable Application Platform, provides more advanced features but requires set-tops with more horsepower.

“OCAP has everything and the kitchen sink in it, but the [cable] industry realized that many of the boxes aren't capable of running all these fabulous features,” Zoffer said. “EBIF lets you do the most popular features — polling, voting and requesting more information.”

For now, Verizon has deployed the EBIF application only in Portland but eventually will roll out the capability to all its markets, Zoffer said. She added that the company is already working with programmers on new interactive applications and has several projects in the pipeline.