And the Emmy goes to ... IBM and Microsoft

IBM and Microsoft will pick up Emmy awards next week for technical achievement, a first for each company.

IBM and Microsoft are about to pick up impressive new hardware to stick in their corporate trophy cases: Next week, the companies will take home their first Emmy awards for technical innovations.

Microsoft scored in the recently created video game technology category. Its Xbox Live service is being recognised as a pioneering effort in the development of multiplayer console technology, according to the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which awards the Emmys. Microsoft will share video game honors with Atari and Sony, whose Atari 2600 and PlayStation 1 machines are being retrospectively recognised for their milestone achievements.

IBM's award is for "pioneering development of locally integrated and branded content using IP [intellectual property] Store and forward technology." (We're shocked they skipped over that category on the Emmy Awards' primetime broadcast, earlier this month.) The citation recognises a project IBM has been working on with Warner Brothers' WB Television Network for nearly a decade, starting not long after the network's launch. The two companies partnered to create what Steve Canepa, vice-president of IBM's Global Media & Entertainment unit, describes as "station in a box" technology.

The WB Network couldn't afford to set up affiliate operations in every market it wanted to serve across the U.S. Instead, working with IBM, it developed a system for centralizing programming and advertising content in Los Angeles and transmitting that information to receivers in local markets. Local ads could be beamed to Los Angeles, digitized and edited to fit with the network's national look-and-feel, and then sent back for insertion into local programming feeds. The system drastically reduced the local staffing and facilities requirements for running regional broadcasts, according to Canepa. The WB Network currently advertises coverage in 92 percent of U.S. television markets.

"Instead of having 50 or 60-percent coverage, [the WB Network] could get a full national footprint," Canepa said. "The Emmy really underscores the substantive impact this had as a proof point, as a real force in changing the broadcast industry."

The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences handed out its first technical and engineering accomplishment award in 1948. Broadcasters, film developers and equipment makers dominated the award's first few decades, but a few Silicon Valley companies have picked up awards in recent years. Hewlett-Packard Co. took one in 1999 for software that measures the effectiveness of digital media compression, while Apple Computer picked up a 2001 engineering award for its FireWire data transfer technology and another the next year for its Final Cut Pro software.

Xbox Live Product Manager Ben Kilgore said his team views the award as a chance to celebrate the years of work they've put into Xbox Live, which now has more than 2 million active users. A group of Xbox Live developers will travel next week to Princeton, New Jersey, to attend the Thursday awards ceremony at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The most important question, of course, is which designers' attire they plan to wear for their trip across the red carpet.

"We've spent a lot of time debating it," Kilgore said. "We're going a little bit more formal than t-shirts."

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