More Companies Sign Up for CMC's Centralized Interactive TV Platform

--New HITS AxIS Clients are NDS, Softel-USA, S&T, and Unisoft
--Buckeye CableSystem to Serve as Beta Site for HITS AxIS ITV Services

Comcast Media Center (note: the company, generally known as CMC, is a business unit of Comcast that provides centralized content management and distribution services for cable operators and content providers) says that it has signed up four more companies for its recently launched HITS AxIS service: NDS, a provider of conditional access and interactive TV technologies; Softel-USA, which is best known for its MediaSphere line of ITV products, including the widely deployed MediaSphere TX broadcast carousel; Strategy & Technology, whose TSBroadcaster carousel management and streaming product is being used for a number of OCAP/tru2way roll-outs across the US; and Unisoft, which specializes in providing broadcast, development and testing tools for ITV applications.

HITS AxIS (stands for "Headend In The Sky Advanced Interactive Services") is a centralized platform that operates on the National Authorization System (NAS) and that is billed as being designed to support developers of advanced OCAP/tru2way and ETV/EBIF interactive TV applications and to facilitate the deployment and management of those applications on cable systems serving small- to mid-sized markets. According to CMC, the platform, which was developed in collaboration with Vidiom and TVWorks, two companies well-known for their work in the ETV/EBIF and tru2way/OCAP spaces (note: TVWorks is co-owned by Comcast and Cox), is currently supporting product development activities for a number of other ITV application developers, including Alticast, BIAP, emuse, Ensequence, Sofia Digital, vivoTRAK and Zodiac Interactive. Its product development services are expected to eventually encompass business modeling, licensing and application testing (both standalone and interoperability); its deployment services are expected to include configuration, hosting, affiliate sales, contract management, and product launches to HITS' cable system affiliates; and its operations management services are expected to include application and network monitoring, updates and upgrade management, billing services and customer support, security, technical support, and disaster recovery. CMC positions the service as providing "cable system operators with an alternative to headend-based solutions for launching and supporting advanced interactive video applications," and says that affiliates of its HITS Quantum service will be able to use HITS AxIS to offer interactive services to customers using their existing headend management systems. "HITS AxIS is ready to support the development, delivery and management of advanced interactive video applications, and we are very pleased to be working with a growing number of leading companies in the ITV space," Gary Traver, SVP and COO of Comcast Media Center, said in a prepared statement. "In addition to our support for the applications development community, HITS AxIS can provide an end-to-end solution for cable system operators, allowing them to offer advanced services to their customers more easily and more cost effectively."

Last week, CMC announced that independent cable operator, Buckeye CableSystem (serves around 150,000 customers in Northwest and North Central Ohio and in Southeast Michigan), has signed an agreement to act as a beta site for advanced interactive TV applications that are tested, launched and supported by HITS AxIS. "Buckeye CableSystem welcomes the opportunity to work with Comcast Media Center on a beta trial of the HITS AxIS service," BuckEye CableSystem CTO, Joe Jensen, said in a prepared statement. "We see this as an opportunity not only to understand the AxIS service better, but also to develop a further understanding of some of the ETV/EBIF applications and their implications in our network."

In other CMC news: The company says it is expanding its national VOD service to include transport via MPEG-4 compression technology (note: CMC claims that its MPEG-2 service currently delivers over 8,000 VOD assets per month to millions of VOD households served by around 20 of the US's largest cable MSO's). It says it expects to do this via SES Americom's satellite-delivered IP-PRIME service, pending the signing of a definitive agreement between the two companies. "Extending our VOD capabilities to include MPEG-4 transport allows television programming networks and other content providers to reach their MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 distributors 'All from The Center,'" CMC's Gary Traver said in a prepared statement. "We look forward to making this new service available via SES Americom's IP-PRIME service." Added IP-PRIME president, Bill Squadron: "As consumer demand for more programming, including more VOD, continues to grow, this initiative with Comcast Media Center helps ensure that we can provide IP-PRIME operators with the best and most comprehensive IPTV service offering in the market. This collaboration with CMC extends our relationship, which until now has primarily focused on SES Americom's satellite distribution of their services." CMC bills its managed VOD platform as providing content providers with a cost-effective way to deliver VOD to their cable operator affiliates and as allowing cable operators to accept content from multiple sources without having to coordinate, manage and manipulate the content at each headend. Services provided by the platform include creation and validation of metadata, pitching of VOD content to local servers, 24/7 quality assurance monitoring, and a secure Internet portal that allows affiliates to track when programming has propagated from the CMC catcher to the affiliate's VOD system (it can list VOD assets by programmer or provide a total view of VOD assets). SES Americom bills IP-PRIME as a customizable, MPEG-4-based, turnkey IPTV solution, featuring 45 HD channels and 260 SD channels. It is scheduled to add VOD services to its programming options in the fourth quarter.