By Simon Applebaum,
Cablevision, July 30, 1999
As advanced digital set-top terminals begin to roll out, interactive-TV content and application ventures are taking a critical common step to make their product compatible with the operating system and middleware of any terminal anywhere. That step: joint application-development programs maintained by set-top vendors themselves.

After all, the sooner content providers make their wares box-friendly, the better chance they have to win cable-operator affiliation and, ultimately, subscriber use. For General Instrument and Scientific -Atlanta, each with a development program to its name, more compatible applications fuel their self-interest in getting operators to circulate their advanced set-tops in shorter order. "The more applications through the box, the more valuable the box is and the more boxes we sell," says Jack miller, business director in S-A's digital subscriber networks unit.

Both S-A's "CreativEdge" and GI's "Horizons" programs have been bustling with activity in recent months. Thirty developers are engaged with Horizons, 15 are working with CreativEdge, up to 20 more are close to signing up with S-A, and the entire program, geared to the vendor's Explorer 2000 box model, is expected to grow to at least 50 participants within the next year.

"The advanced interactive set-top is opening up a range of developers who want to work with us," adds Denton Kanouff, GI's digital networks systems marketing VP. "We're even getting some play from members of the Java and Linux application community."

Other set-top box vendors are exploring similar programs as they bring advanced set-tops to cable operators. Cisco Systems organized its own "Built for Broadband" avenue to bring application compatibility along on not only set-tops, but on high-speed cable modems and cable plant infrastructure, including headends, servers and routers. Intertainer and Arepa were named as participants when the program was announced at the Western Show last December.

Jonathan Taplin, Intertainer's co-chairman, wants to see common protocol for applications, so that one version fits all operating systems and middleware. "Sooner or later, we're going to have to set a standard hat's the equivalent of HTML for the World Wide Web," he says. "If interactive TV is going to explode, there must be a simple framework for everyone writing their stuff."