Broadcasters get tools to develop for WebTV

Five technology providers, including Avid Technology, Chyron, Norpak, VertigoXmedia and Vizrt, rolled out new versions of their editing and content development products that work with standards used on the Microsoft TV platform.

Microsoft's TV hardware and software serves WebTV and it's newly released UltimateTV service, which combines e-mail and Internet functions with interactive television and DVR (digital video recorder) functions such as pause, and live television play back. Microsoft launched UltimateTV in partnership with DirecTV as a next-generation system of its interactive television product line.

Like the interactive television industry as a whole, Microsoft's interactive TV products have been slow to catch on in the US and in Europe, where interactive television had an earlier start. Microsoft also faces tough competition in the space from other developers, including OpenTV, Liberate Technologies, and a number of smaller companies whose technologies are used by cable and satellite operators around the world.

In Europe, OpenTV controls the majority of the market, according to Gartner Group, a technology research firm. In the US, Microsoft has also failed to take a lead in the space. In a major blow last year, AT&T ditched Microsoft's TV software due to its slow roll out and is now testing software from Liberate for its set-top boxes.

"Microsoft was late to the game," said Jay Srivasta, principal analyst covering consumer electronics for Gartner. "Microsoft has had a nice ride in the PC space where they called the shots and everyone followed, but that's not the case in the interactive TV world where Microsoft is just another player."

Besides industry rivals, Microsoft is also competing against a small market for interactive TV viewers. Only about 17 per cent of US households are expected to have interactive TV in their homes next year, according to a March survey from Jupiter Media Metrix. That small market has caused broadcasters to adopt new technology slowly and cautiously. Microsoft's Interactive TV functions are available for select TV game shows and MSNBC, the cable news channel run by Microsoft and General Electric's NBC.

With Microsoft hoping to overcome its slow start, Monday's announcements will give broadcasters access to a number of upgrades to existing products that will enable them to add interactive content to regular programming.

VertigoXmedia released a new version of its, Producer On Air 2.0 product, which allows broadcasters to collect content from the Web, wire feeds, newsroom systems and other outlets and convert the data for delivery to the Web and interactive TV programs. The tool enables broadcasters to produce content that can be updated automatically in response to viewer feedback.

Avid released an upgrade to its editing tool that enables editors to mix HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) with existing audio and video feeds. That product will support the Microsoft TV hardware and software services and the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum (ATVEF) standard, widely used for creating interactive TV content.

Norpak released an interactive TV data-monitoring system, which allows broadcasters and network operators to track interactive content so they can filter or replace it real-time depending on their needs. Chyron rolled out a new tool for creating interactive graphics, and Vizrt released a new product that gives broadcasters templates to create content quickly.

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