WorldGate Plays the Middleware Card

Joining the competitive middleware fray, WorldGate Communications Inc. is pushing its "CableWare 2000," an open-standards platform that can handle interactive-television applications such as video on demand, games, Internet access and interactive program guides on legacy digital set-top boxes.

"The [interactive-television] landscape, on almost a daily basis, is getting more and more competitive, and none of the players has the lead in the U.S.," said The Carmel Group analyst Jim Stroud.

But before WorldGate can stake any claims on that territory, it must try to maneuver through a highly competitive field that already has a lengthy head start.

For instance, Cable Television Laboratories Inc. last week named Microsoft Corp., Liberate Technologies and Sun Microsystems Inc. as primary authors of the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), the middleware software specification for advanced digital boxes and digital televisions.

CableLabs also selected Canal Plus Technologies, OpenTV Inc. and PowerTV Inc. as "key" contributors to the specification.

WorldGate said it would be "open" to contributing to OCAP, as well.

WorldGate said its "lightweight architecture" middleware can support roughly 8 million digital "2000-class" Scientific- Atlanta Inc. and Motorola Broadband Communications Sector set-tops already deployed by U.S. cable operators.

"The industry is sold on advanced digital, but it's delayed," WorldGate chairman and CEO Hal Krisbergh said. "CableWare 2000 will add a much richer suite of capabilities that aren't currently available in 2000-class boxes. We want to say to the world of DCT-5000 developers that they can port applications to the 2000 platform right now."

At the same time, CableWare 2000 provides a content-migration path for next-generation advanced digital boxes, Krisbergh said. "The 5000 will probably be ready for next year, so we'll be there to evolve with it."

CableWare 2000 also works with WorldGate's "WALI" application-launcher software to run applications such as WorldGate's "Internet on Every TV" service.

MSOs with agreements to license WALI include Adelphia Communications Corp. Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. That group also agreed to invest $24.5 million in WorldGate, launch Internet on Every TV and license WorldGate's "Channel HyperLinking" and "Ultra-Thin Client" technology.

The MSOs and WorldGate also formed TVGateway, a joint venture that plans to unveil an interactive program guide that could compete with Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.'s IPG in the fourth quarter.

Krisbergh said MSOs "can just get the CableWare portion if they want it."

WorldGate is negotiating with MSOs about CableWare 2000 deals, and has support from video-on-demand vendors Concurrent Computer Corp., SeaChange International, Diva Systems Corp. and nCUBE, Krisbergh said.

A Cox spokeswoman said the MSO agreed to license WorldGate's application launcher but has yet to make a decision regarding CableWare 2000.