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Verizon Runs Olympics ITV Trial In Oregon

Verizon Communications, co-opting a key technology developed by the cable industry, is trialing an interactive TV application in the 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, and gives MSNBC viewers access to real-time Olympics news from Beijing, medal counts by country, and bios of U.S. athletes.

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. 

Ensquence developed a similar application for NBCU offered by Dish Network, which provides not just real-time data but also a six-screen mosaic that allows subscribers to watch CNBC, MSNBC, Oxygen, USA Network and two Olympics highlights channels.

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.

“From Verizon’s point of view, interactivity is a retention tool,” she said. “What we know is subscribers who use interactive applications are happier.”

FiOS TV already offers interactive “widgets,” which run natively on the proprietary Motorola QIP set-tops the telco uses, that provide customizable weather and traffic information.