TV techno tandem

Microsoft, Excite@Home ink enhanced-platform pact

In the race to bring interactive TV services to consumers, Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday said it has expanded its deal with AT&T-owned high-speed Internet provider Excite@Home to roll out a jointly created enhanced TV service through the Microsoft TV platform.

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, announced the partnership at the Western Cable Show conference in Los Angeles.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it calls for the two companies to further their two-year relationship to focus on the development of enhanced services for cable set-top boxes and other devices.

Complementary collaboration

With Microsoft focusing on developing a TV platform and Excite@Home focusing on broadband applications and services — including features such as e-mail, interactive shopping and interactive commercials, allowing interactive banner ads to be displayed on television — the collaboration could result in one of the first complete enhanced TV solutions for cable operators, the companies said.

Besides AT&T, Rogers Communications Inc. and United Pan-Europe Communications N.V. plan phased rollouts of the Microsoft TV platform in 2000.

The goal is to speed up the deployment of interactive TV technology by making it easier for cable operators to integrate new technology with existing set-top services.

“We are very excited by the broad support we’ve seen from across the industry in just the six months since we announced the Microsoft TV Platform,” said Jon DeVaan, senior veep, TV Service and Platform Business at Microsoft. “We are committed to working with industry leaders to bring viewers the best television experience possible.”

Keeping its distance

Microsoft is trying to put some distance between itself and other competitors who are trying to connect consumers to the Internet through devices other than the PC.

America Online is quickly gearing up to be one of the largest opponents to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft in the enhanced television arena with its own AOL TV service.

Microsoft has split its television strategy into two separate offerings — its TV product line, which it plans to market to TV service providers, and its WebTV business, a set-top box service offering limited Internet access and enhanced television programming.

More than 20 cable operators in North America already have an exclusive partnership with Excite@Home to deliver broadband data services to nearly 60 million homes.

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