OpenTV’s IPO bows

Interactive TV company's shares skyrocket

Investors Tuesday tuned into OpenTV Corp.’s bow on Wall Street, sending shares of the interactive TV software provider skyrocketing up 180% to close at $56 after issuing a $20 per share IPO.

All eyes are beginning to turn to OpenTV, the latest player in what has become a crowded market to deliver interactive services to television set top boxes, letting network operators deploy interactive TV to a large number of subscribers without infrastructure upgrade costs.

Crowded market

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s accumulation of $150 million through the stock offering is expected to help the company position itself as a major competitor in the increasingly crowded market of interactive TV service providers.

OpenTV builds software that enables viewers to use a standard remote control to pull up sports stats, buy merchandise, purchase tickets, and bank online.

The company’s service is already a major player overseas, with over 4.5 million set top boxes deployed worldwide, mostly in Europe. Nearly 8 million homes worldwide use interactive services, with much of that use concentrated in Europe.

Echostar signs on

Echostar’s Dish Network has already said it plans to use OpenTV’s software in the U.S. early next year.

In Europe, OpenTV’s biggest competitor is Canal Plus in France, with about 3.5 million customers hooked up to its interactive satellite service. The company has also said it will cross over to the U.S. next year.

But in the U.S., OpenTV will have a tougher time gaining market share, going up against a slew of companies — including Microsoft Corp.’s WebTV, Wink Communications and Liberate Technologies — who are also deploying their own Interactive TV services.

But OpenTV has a portfolio of heavy hitters behind it, including America Online, News Corp., Time Warner and Sun Microsystems, which owns about 20% of the company.

The companies on Monday said they invested $31 million in OpenTV. Not surprisingly, they’ve also invested in rivals, hoping that one player will succeed in the future.

“This is a play on the future in terms of interactive television,” said Steven Tuen, an analyst at IPO Value Monitor. “I think OpenTV has a pretty good future ahead of them.”

“They provide the tools and the middleware that interactive elements will run on,” said Kevin Hause, an analyst at International Data Corp. “The idea is the ennoblement of interactive services. It is very important, and they are absolutely leaders in the space.”

OpenTV is an affiliate of Dutch firm MIH Ltd.

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