At CES in Las Vegas last week, UK incumbent telco, BT, and Microsoft announced a partnership that, starting in mid-2008, will allow BT broadband customers who also own Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming consoles to access BT's Microsoft Mediaroom-powered IPTV service, BT Vision, through the Xbox 360. Existing BT Vision customers, who currently access the service through a proprietary hybrid (DTT/IP) set-top box, will now have the option of also accessing it (minus Freeview DTT channels) through the Microsoft gaming console.
According to the companies, BT Vision on Xbox will "combine the richness of the Microsoft Mediaroom-enabled TV service, with the benefits of next-generation gaming, as well as unique new capabilities that the integrated solution brings." Among other things, the partnership will see Microsoft's Xbox Live service, which combines on-demand programming content with social TV features, integrated with the BT Vision experience: the companies say that this integration will allow BT customers to access such features as voice chat, the ability to send and receive voice messages, and the ability to access the Xbox Live Marketplace and play Xbox games, all while watching TV. "We are pleased to partner with Microsoft to deliver a truly compelling connected entertainment experience to our customers," BT Vision CEO, Dan Marks, said in a prepared statement. "For the first time, consumers in the UK will be able to experience the advantages of an advanced TV service together with the benefits of next-generation gaming. Our aim is to provide BT Vision on multiple platforms--giving customers greater convenience, control and flexibility over what they watch, when they watch and how they watch TV. It also means that we are able to potentially expand our BT Vision customer base by tapping into the popularity of Xbox 360." (Note: uptake of the BT Vision service has been somewhat anemic to date: it is believed to have attracted only around 100,000 customers since launching in late 2006.)
In other BT news:
- The company has chosen Motorola as the lead supplier of the next-generation of set-top boxes for the BT Vision IPTV service (note: the current generation of BT Vision set-tops is supplied by Philips, which is exiting the set-top business--see article in this issue). According to BT, the new Motorola version of the BT Vision V-box will be HD-capable; will sport a new look; will be more energy-efficient; will provide access to up to 40 Freeview TV channels and 30 radio channels; and will allow end-users to record an average of 80 hours of content. "Motorola has extensive experience in IPTV and particularly in working with our platform partner, Microsoft, on deployments of Microsoft Mediaroom around the world," BT Vision's Dan Marks said in a prepared statement. "Today's announcement will lead to the development of a new set-top box to take full advantage of the increasing capabilities of the Microsoft Mediaroom platform and of the most recent advances in chipset technology. This underpins our medium-term goal of securing 2-3 million customers for BT Vision."
- The company has begun a trial of a service that allows users of its BT Vision Download Store (note: for more on the latter--which is not to be confused with the BT Vision IPTV service) to download movies for free, in exchange for watching targeted advertisements. The three-month trial--which began at the end of November and which sees BT collaborating with Hiro Media, Intel and FremantleMedia--offers consumers three free films, "Mischief Night," "Played" and "The Punk Rock Movie." In order to view the films, consumers must first download free video software from Hiro Media, a developer of ad-supported video-download technology, and are then asked to provide what BT terms "anonymous demographic information," that will allow the software to dynamically select commercials that are suited to the answers they provide. Once they download one of the movies, it will be available to them for a month, and will present them with different ads at each viewing, during commercial breaks at various junctures in the movie. The trial also allows consumers to send the films they download to their friends via email, to be viewed on the same terms. Advertisers that are participating in the trial (via digital advertising agency, isobar) include the AA, Norwich Union and the Territorial Army. "This will be a fascinating trial: the concept of targeted TV advertisements is now a reality through the combined technology behind BT Vision Download Store and Hiro's software solution," Antony Carbonari, BT Vision's interactive and commercial media director, said in a prepared statement. "We believe that sympathetically placed, targeted advertising, combined with a viral film-sharing capability, will be attractive to many customers in conjunction with free or reduced content prices."
- The company has signed a new deal with Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment that will make around 150 Paramount-distributed films available on the BT Vision Download Store. Titles covered by the deal include "Babel," "An Inconvenient Truth," and the "Star Trek" movie series.
- Via its relationship with BBC Worldwide, the company is offering "FIFA: More than a Game," a high-profile, six-part documentary series on the history of World Cup soccer, on the BT Vision IPTV service.
- The company is now offering the BT Vision IPTV service on a self-install basis. It is still charging customers who self-install a one-off £30 "connection fee," but it points out that customers will save £60 by avoiding the need for an engineer to visit their premises. The self-install option, which BT says is available in over 1,000 retail stores around the UK (including Comet, Currys.digital and John Lewis), includes a pair of Comtrend Powerline Adaptors, which plug into electrical outlets and carry the video signal from the BT Home Hub to the BT V-box across a home's power circuit. The equipment needed to self-install BT Vision is delivered directly to the customer via courier. According to BT, installing BT Vision should take the end-user less than an hour.
- The company has launched an interactive TV magazine--dubbed "On Vision" and accessed from the EPG--for users of the BT Vision IPTV service. Designed by BT itself, and produced and hosted by Irish interactive TV company, emuse, the new magazine is billed as the first application to run on the Microsoft Mediaroom Tasman TV browser (note: BT promises that "many interactive browser applications" will launch on BT Vision over the next year). emuse's involvement in the project stems from a deal it signed last year that sees it powering interactive advertising and sponsorship on the BT Vision IPTV service. The magazine highlights various content offerings on BT Vision, and provides information on "how to get the very best" out of the service. Its content includes sneak previews and competitions. It is created by BT Vision's existing online editorial team, which represents a partnership of creative teams from customer publishing agencies, Future Plus and Zone: Future Plus is responsible for the magazine's entertainment content and Zone for its sports content. "We are delighted to be working with emuse and to be the first to launch an interactive application that utilizes the Microsoft Mediaroom Tasman browser," BT Vision's Dan Marks, said in a prepared statement. "Interactive services will form an increasingly important part of the BT Vision offering in 2008 and the Tasman browser represents an important first milestone in our planned roadmap to launch market-leading interactive services."
Originally published January 14, 2008 in Issue 7.58A
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