Consumer electronics giant Thomson Multimedia SA is betting Microsoft Corp’s Windows CE operating system will become the dominant platform for delivering interactive television services in the US. Goaded into action by deals that Thomson’s rivals Sony Corp and Matsushita Electric Co (Panasonic) have struck with Redmond, the French government has agreed to sell a 7.5% […]
Consumer electronics giant Thomson Multimedia SA is betting Microsoft Corp’s Windows CE operating system will become the dominant platform for delivering interactive television services in the US. Goaded into action by deals that Thomson’s rivals Sony Corp and Matsushita Electric Co (Panasonic) have struck with Redmond, the French government has agreed to sell a 7.5% stake in the company to Microsoft, General Motors’ DirectTV, NEC Corp and Alcatel SA. The deal is a blow to the development of Java-based interactive television software which has been underway at a venture created by Thomson and Sun Microsystems Inc now called OpenTV Inc. Although no longer majority-owned by Thomson or Sun, the French company said the development labs they created to develop what became the OpenTV architecture will, ironically, now also be used to develop Windows CE-based platforms. Although OpenTV has won a string of cable, satellite and terrestrial TV partners for its PersonalJava-based software in Europe, it has attracted virtually no support in the US, bar Worldgate Communications Inc. The US-based internet-over- cable company is using OpenTV to roll out its services primarily outside the US, and although it admits there’s been little domestic support for OpenTV, says it doesn’t see the cable industry willing to jump into bed with Bill Gates either. Although Thomson said it will continue to promote OpenTV in Europe, it seems clear that Windows CE will be the focus of is volume television business. As part of the deal, Thomson will license and sell Microsoft’s WebTV technology under the RCA brand in the US and Thomson in Europe. Thomson’s first foray into manufacturing and marketing interactive set-tops failed when WebTV rival NetChannel Inc threw in the towel and sold its carcass to America OnLine earlier this year. Thomson said the first WebTV-based devices are likely to be televisions that include integrated WebTV technology rather than separate devices, a configuration WebTV sees as crucial to the market for interactive television, so consumers need only buy and install a single box, not two devices. Thomson’s WebTV-based products won’t available in the near future however. The first product to result from its new partnerships will be a flat- panel plasma display TV developed in conjunction with NEC that will be actively marketed first in Europe in around a year’s time. Thomson says its interactive TV technologies, co-developed with Microsoft and offered through products such as its RCA DirectTV satellite service, will be introduced in three stages, with simple on-line electronic channel guides being the first available, followed by weather, sports and local interest services and finally full-blown TV internet access. Thomson says it’s still evaluating use of the proposed Advanced Television Enhancement Forum spec for a cross-industry internet-on-TV application platform (CI No 3,463). Sun sold a 44% stake in OpenTV to Pay TV company Myriad International Holdings Inc after it acquired interactive device design shop Diba Inc, leaving it with 12% and Thomson holding 44%. OpenTV claims 420,000 consumer devices are installed with its software. The French government previously tried to offload the loss-making Thomson Multimedia on to Korea’s Daewoo Electronics in 1996, but was forced to cancel the deal after being accused of selling-off France’s silverware. Thomson was subsequently given a huge $1.5bn-odd bailout from the French government to fatten it for sale. Parent Thomson SA traded $800m and its medical units for General Electric’s RCA color TV operation in 1987.