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Biz tapping tech ties

Electronics confab sees major H'w'd linkups

LAS VEGAS — From home networking to portable media to satellite radio to high-definition DVDs, entertainment is taking center stage this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, which is featuring a bigger crossover with Hollywood than ever before.

Among the significant deals revealed on the eve of the show’s opening today was a partnership between Sirius Satellite Radio and Microsoft to provide video programming; major cable networks signing onto an Internet TV service; a host of station groups committing to deploy digital radio; and the debut of Sony’s handheld gaming, video and audio device.

Dubbed PSP, or PlayStation Portable, new product marks Sony’s first foray into the mobile gaming space currently dominated by Nintendo. But it also represents a bid to challenge Apple’s iPod. In addition to games, device plays music and movies and displays photos.

Sony has yet to set a U.S. launch date or a price, although the PSP is expected to come out in mid-March; it launched successfully in Japan in December.

As Sony works on Hollywood partnerships for the PSP, first outside company to take advantage of device’s multimedia capabilities is Electronic Arts. Top vidgame publisher will announce at the show that its initial wave of six games for the PSP will feature music and video options. Players can listen to the 30-40 songs on the games’ soundtracks, using the PSP like an iPod. In addition, a handful of songs on each game will come with musicvideos.

MS gets Sirius about video

Sirius also drew attention Wednesday as it revealed a partnership with Microsoft to enable video programming through its sat radio service.

Company first announced video plans at last year’s CES and is now targeting launch for the second half of 2006.

Sirius will focus on children’s programming to help keep kids in the back seat entertained in cars equipped with sat radio. Sirius will use Microsoft’s Windows Media technology to develop its video programming.

Sirius’ larger competitor, XM, meanwhile revealed a number of partnerships with electronics companies like Pioneer and Thompson RCA that it’s hoping will help it to keep its lead in hardware development.

XM also revealed that it signed deals to be the exclusive satellite radio home of several popular terrestrial radio personalities including Dr. Laura Schlesinger, G. Gordon Liddy and sports commentator Tony Kornheiser.

Terrestrial radio

There was also news on the terrestrial radio front, as 21 top radio broadcast groups including ABC, Clear Channel, Infinity and Univision committed to convert to digital radio, which enables higher-quality broadcasts and features such as music downloads and track information.

While some of the companies have already started to go digital, new commitments are expected to take the number of U.S. stations going digital up to 2,500.

Internet television service Akimbo, which has thus far primarily served subscribers with niche content via a Net-enabled television box, upped its programming cache by signing a deal with A&E Networks to carry A&E, the History Channel and Biography Channel. They’re the first major networks to sign onto Akimbo, which launched in mid-2004.

Telcos SBC and Verizon also will have a major presence this year for the first time to show off their home entertainment offerings. SBC recently revealed its new set-top box that receives satellite TV from partner Dish, downloads movies from the Internet and digitally records TV, among other features (Daily Variety, Jan. 4). Verizon is launching its own video service to compete with cable companies by the middle of this year.