Microsoft has unveiled its TV Foundation Edition, its latest effort to gain a software foothold in the cable television market.
The oresident and chief executive officer of US cable operator Comcast, Brian Roberts, said that his company would use the software during a trial with some of its subscribers later this year.
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Microsoft also announced that Mexican operator Cablevisión (CVC), a subsidiary of Grupo Televisa in Mexico, will use Microsoft software to deliver digital services to subscribers, starting with the Microsoft TV Interactive Program Guide (IPG) this year and then rolling out Foundation Edition next year.
"If Comcast goes through with this plan, it's a big deal," said Gartner analyst Jim Brancheau. "It's a recognition that the architecture looks good, it's a sign that the door is starting to open on this market."
When the internet bubble burst two years ago, it became apparent that manufacturers were not going to roll out advanced set-top boxes as quickly as they had hoped, and cable operators put a damper on aggressive plans to roll out digital TV services.
Microsoft's first versions of its TV platform failed to gain any traction because they were developed at a time when it seemed that cable operators were going to buy into advanced set-top boxes.
But the TV Foundation Edition is the latest shot in a salvo of products geared for this generation of set-top boxes, said Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for Microsoft's MS TV unit.
The first product in this family, IPG, designed to make it easier for TV watchers to find shows and customise their viewing, was launched last year.
Foundation Edition allows operators to create "on-demand storefronts", channels designed to let consumers easily find and purchase a variety of on-demand offerings.
Foundation Edition also provides authoring tools integrated with the Microsoft .net Compact Framework TV Edition,so that operators can broadcast a variety of services and applications including games, news and weather information services.
Cable companies can use the software to track consumer behaviour and target special deals and advertising to certain parts of their audience.
Microsoft has plans to roll out Foundation Edition and IPG in Europe but has not announced a timetable, Graczyk said, adding that European cable operators are weathering a financial storm and are not in a position to roll out new services. Microsoft also needs to port the software to the European TV signal standard, he noted.
Marc Ferranti writes for IDG News Service