LISBON, Portugal, June 7, 2001 — Nuno Guimar
es has changed the ritual he follows each day when he gets home from work. He used to sit on the couch and glance through the mail and newspaper. Now he also turns on the television — not to watch a show, but to preview and record what he and his family will view later that night.
As trial users of the TV Digital Interactiva service (IDTV) offered by TV Cabo of Portugal, Guimar
es and his family not only have more control over their television; they have more options than ever on a set-top cable controller. In addition to reviewing upcoming shows and recording without videotapes, they read news headlines, search the Internet and check e-mail. They also check bank balances, play video games and buy tickets for movies at local theaters. While watching selected sports and other programs, they can choose particular camera angles or instantly share their opinions with other viewers.
“Its more proactive than regular television,”
es, a computer science professor at the University of Lisbon.
“You are more aware of whats going on, and you are empowered to take advantage of these greater possibilities.”
es new ritual will soon be shared by tens of thousands of Portuguese viewers. Following a six-month trial, TV Cabo today began commercial deployment of IDTV, the worlds first interactive, high-speed cable television and Internet service to include digital video recording via an advanced set-top receiver.
At the heart of IDTV is Microsoft TV technology. Microsoft has created an interactive television platform that combines enhanced programming, Internet access and Web-based services with new digital recording technologies. It also based the platform on open standards already used by creators of online and television content and network providers worldwide.
“Microsoft TV is helping to evolve television into a dynamic, active medium that enables viewers to interact with TV programming, more easily control what they watch, and use their television as a tool to enjoy and engage in a wide range of activities that havent been possible until now,”
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said prior to attending an IDTV launch event in Lisbon.
This revolution in broadcasting will help people have more fun when watching their favorite shows, and will enable activities using TV sets ranging from online shopping to home banking, games, digital video recording, Internet access and e-mail.”
TV Cabo, Portugals largest network operator, with service to more than 2 million homes, joins a growing list of operators and content providers who are embracing Microsofts technology and vision for the future of television. Cable operator Globo Cabo in Brazil and Thomson Multimedia in France both use Microsoft TV technology, just as Microsoft UltimateTV, which offers services to DirecTV subscribers in the United States. Two other large network operators — Cablevision of Mexico and Matav of Israel — today announced plans to use the platform.
In addition to creating a platform with a variety of set-top box software and server options ( See Sidebar ) Microsoft has invested $11 billion to help network operators around the world install the high-speed cable and other broadband infrastructure needed to offer interactive television.
“Microsoft is fundamentally committed to the television industry and working with pioneering network operators to extend the benefits of interactive TV to consumers worldwide,”
said Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of the TV Division at Microsoft.
Microsoft hopes to play a galvanizing role in the growth of interactive television, according to Microsoft TV European Marketing Director Mark Le Goy.
“The investment weve made in network operators to help them accelerate their rollout of these services is part of that,”
“This is a growing market in which the whole industry can benefit.”
TV Cabo is one of the network providers in which Microsoft has invested, and the results are beginning to show. IDTV is the third interactive service based on Microsoft TV Advanced software to be deployed commercially, and the first available via broadband cable.
TV Cabo and its parent PT Multimedia are ideal standard bearers for Microsofts advanced systems, Le Goy said, because of their commitment to offering interactive services. Plus, people in Portugal and Spain watch an average of 3.5 hours of television a day — the most in Europe.
Personalization, Digital Recording Gives Viewers More Control
es isnt a voracious viewer. He likes what he likes, and he wants to watch it when he wants to watch it. Thats why he likes IDTV.
Microsoft TVs electronic programming guide (EPG) allows him and his family to check when their favorite shows are on. They also can add reminders to ensure they dont miss these shows and create a customized channel lineup that includes only the programs they prefer.
es likes to watch the early evening news each night. In the past, he often missed it because it is broadcast when his family eats dinner. No more. The built-in digital recorder within the Portuguese Octal TV set-top boxes allows him to easily record the news and watch it later. The United Kingdoms Pace Technology will manufacture future versions of the boxes.
“You dont have tapes to mess with. You hit one button and go to dinner,”
“It would never have occurred to me to record the news before, because it was awkward.”
Microsoft TV allows viewers to record between eight and 12 hours of programming on a 20-gigabyte hard disk in the set-top box. The recorder lists programs stored on the disk and allows a full range of other features, including the ability to watch a program frame by frame or instantly jump forward to any point in a recorded program without fast-forwarding. In the future, the recorder will allow viewers to pause or rewind live shows by simultaneously recording the live signal while showing recorded footage.
Interactivity, Online Services Expand TV Options
Microsoft TV also allows network operators to provide a range of interactive programming and online communication, entertainment and commerce. TV Cabos IDTV offers all of these options. Younger viewers can e-mail questions and hear them read on live television by the clowns on
a popular childrens program. Older viewers can receive information about the movie they are watching or even lists of other movies in which the actors appear. To help satiate Portugals national hunger for
(soccer, to U.S. fans of the game), TV Cabo also shows selected games with interactive options. Viewers can choose their favorite camera angle, get continuously updated game and player statistics, and exchange running e-mail commentary with other fans.
es says hes often too involved in the games to use the interactive options, but plenty of other IDTV users cant get enough of them. The e-mail commentary is fast and furious about the performance of teams, players and especially referees, says Manuel Sequeira, TV Cabos director of infrastructure development. One viewer jokingly asked recently if the interactivity might eventually allow fans to improve the outcome of games for their favorite teams.
“Its a nice suggestion,”
Sequeria said with a chuckle.
“But its not that interactive.”
For viewers who like playing their own games, IDTV provides 14 options, including popular nostalgia games such as a Tetris and Space Invaders, newer games such as Picnic Antics, puzzles, trivia and memory games. Players can then share the results with others via the Web Score function.
Viewers too busy to play games or do much else can save time by shopping and banking via IDTV. It offers two virtual banks, one affiliated with Caixa Geral de Depositos (CGD), Portugals largest bank, and the other with Banco Espirito Santo, the countrys third largest. Users can check the their account balances, transfer money and pay bills, via the on-screen interfaces. These screens have been created specifically for television, with larger fonts, fewer on-screen buttons and brighter colors than those used for online bank services accessed on desktop PCs.
Banking is among the
services offered on IDTV, meaning users can visit secure locations on the Internet that dont link to other sites. Commerce, or
“compras,” is another. Users choose from seven different categories of virtual stores, including food and drinks, car accessories and home and furniture. Giganet, Compaq and Portuguese book retailer Byblos are among the retailers with virtual storefronts, designed for so-called
shoppers in much the same way as IDTVs virtual banks.
es finds the convenience of purchasing movie tickets via his television particularly appealing. IDTV offers tickets for Warner Bros. theaters for 800 escudos (about $4), the going rate in Portugal. Customers pick up their tickets at the theater will-call window.
“We can arrive minutes before the start of the movie and pick up our tickets without waiting in line,”
“And we dont have to worry about the show selling out, since our seats are reserved.”
Microsoft TV Very Easy To Deploy And Use For Program Development
TV Cabo hopes easy access to time-saving resources such as online movie tickets and shopping will increase Internet use in Portugal, which lags behind much of Europe, said Jos
Pedro Salas Pires, senior vice president of TV Cabo.
“We cant give them more time, but we can give them better and more comfortable time,”
To further speed the creation of interactive content, Microsoft has created the Content Builder Initiative (CBI) and Microsoft TV Developer Program. The CBI provides select content developers with advanced set-top boxes and hands-on technical support and resources for creating interactive television content. Participants are drawn from the developer program, which includes members in 15 countries and offers live, online training Webcasts taught by expert instructors.
While Microsoft points to these and other efforts — including the investments in network operators — to demonstrate its commitment to interactive television, Salas Pires has his own benchmark.
“[Microsoft has] worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week”
to ensure that IDTV meets expectations, he said.
“It has been full proof of commitment.”
Interactive Television Key to .NET
Microsofts interest in interactive television is rooted in the companys .NET vision. The company expects to eventually extend interactive television services to desktop PCs and other devices.
If Microsofts vision comes true, users will some day be able to receive notification on their mobile phone when a favorite program airs. They also will be able to remotely select programs they want to record, purchase or rent, and then watch these programs at their convenience at home.
“There is so much potential for TV to be tremendously enriched through the interactive software Microsoft is developing,”
Le Goy said.
“Its beyond our imagination.”