Cablers eye software coin

NEW YORK — Bill Gates’ billion-dollar investment in Comcast Corp. could unleash a flood of software money into the cable industry.

Observers said that Gates’ arch-rival, Oracle Corp. chairman Larry Ellison, has in recent weeks been desperately calling cabler execs such as Tele-Communications Inc. president Leo Hindery, trying to do a deal.

Ellison isn’t the only software exec anxious to get a foot in the door with cablers. No one wants to see Gates lock up access to the cable industry, whose control over an important distribution system makes them valuable to any software company eyeing businesses like interactive video or the Internet, according to Wall Streeters.

TCI’s Hindery said Friday it “would not surprise me at all to see others in the (Silicon) Valley seek direct or indirect involvement with others in the industry … Bill prides himself on being an industry leader.”

Hindery said he would not comment specifically “on discussions that might be under way involving our company.” TCI, which is looking to reduce its $14 billion debt, would surely welcome an investment from the software industry. Sources said the cabler is hoping to wrap up a deal by early next year.

An Oracle spokeswoman said the company, which is the second-biggest software manufacturer in the world, doesn’t comment on rumors.

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