As personal video recorder developers TiVo and Replay stare down the barrel of Gemstar patent infringement suits over the use of electronic program guides, Thomson and a Silicon Valley software firm called Metabyte are teaming up on a PVR system of their own.
Metabyte announced this month that it is spinning off its MbTV division into an independent company called Metabyte Networks. Thomson and hard drive manufacturer Seagate will be minority investors in the venture, while Metabyte retains controlling interest in the privately held entity. The company will be focused on finding other manufacturers to develop MbTV-enabled devices and on delivering an intuitive "service" that monitors viewing patterns to deliver personalized video programming and advertising in a subscription-free fashion.
The company will derive ongoing revenue from advertising programs that will help sponsors swap out their own TV commercials with others that may be deemed more appropriate based on the viewer's profile. Other revenue streams may come from pay-per-view video programming that the system can help store and deliver to the viewer, said Metabyte president Manu Mehta.
As reported more than a year ago in TWICE, Metabyte has developed a platform called MbTV, which is designed to operate in a fashion similar to TiVo's current PVRs. The software will monitor viewing habits of users to automatically find and record programs it identifies as a logical fit. Mehta said the technology would go further than TiVo, however, by identifying which person in a household is watching the set at any given time, based on the programming that was selected. This will enable the system to call up commercials it has cached on a hard drive to replace one spot from a particular sponsor with a commercial for another product or service in that company's line.
Most importantly, the service was designed to work with any electronic program guide, meaning it will not infringe Gemstar's highly protected EPG patents. Mehta said it would be up to the hardware manufacturers to determine the EPG used in a product, and to make any necessary licensing arrangements. Because Thomson has a large equity stake in Gemstar, it seems logical that a MbTV device using a GuidePlus EPG would follow.
Rob Logan, Thomson interactive television division general manager, said his company partnered with MbTV more from a technological standpoint than for the potential for venture capital gain.
Although he declined to reveal specific product plans, Logan said the MbTV program is small enough to be used in non-hard drive based products, such as DirecTv receivers.
The application would then run in the background on a DirecTv terminal to make programming suggestions to viewers, or to program a separate VCR to make recordings for watchers. Naturally, Thomson could also develop an MbTV-enabled hard disc device, although the company announced at CES that it is working with Microsoft's WebTV on a device with similar functionality.
"We are strong believers in the functionality of hard disc recording devices," said Logan.
Mehta said the company expects to see an MbTV device from an unnamed manufacturer before the end of the year.