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Microsoft, Thomson Sign On With Wink

Wink Communications, the developer of an interactive enhanced television data system, added to its momentum this month when it announced that Microsoft has taken a $30 million equity stake in the company, while Thomson has agreed to add Wink capability to new DirecTv receivers.

Wink said Microsoft’s investment will help the companies to promote interactive content and commerce based on the specification for Interactive Television of the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum (ATVEF).

Wink said its Response Network Service, which enables broadcasters and cable operators to provide viewer-response services, will be “optimized to support ATVEF-compliant content for television devices that make use of the Microsoft television software platform.”

Microsoft will in turn use Wink’s Response Network for ATVEF-based direct-response advertising services.

Additionally, Microsoft’s WebTV Network will make Wink services available to its customers, Microsoft said.

“One of the best things about the deal,” said Wink CEO Maggie Wilderotter, “is that it brings the power of Wink and WebTV together so that instead of being viewed as potential competitors, we can now do a lot to accelerate the deployment of interactive television. Now, CE manufacturers, programmers, broadcasters and cable operators will not have to hold back to see who wins.

“This reinforces that by working with both companies on the ATVEF standard they will be able to deliver a robust set of interactive products and services.”

Continuing the previously announced alliance with DirecTv, Wink said that it reached an agreement with Thomson – the leading producer of DirecTv receivers – to add Wink capability to future DirecTv hardware.

“The agreement with Microsoft really extends Wink’s capabilities into Microsoft video platform devices, not just WebTV,” said Wilderotter, “and Microsoft is putting their platforms on top of Thomson television sets, so we will be part of that offer as well.”

Wilderotter said Wink is “in discussions with all of the DirecTv platform providers” to add Wink capability to all brands of DirecTv hardware.

To promote Wink at retail, she said, the company plans “a fairly large push for first-quarter 2000 with the introduction of Wink services on DirecTv. We’re in the throes right now of putting together launch plans in conjunction with DirecTv that we can bring to retailers.”

Wink-enhanced programming is now or will soon be available from 22 broadcaster and cable programming partners, including ABC, CBS and NBC. The first Wink-enhanced program from ABC aired this month with The View, hosted by Barbara Walters, Wilderotter said.

Most users currently receive Wink content from Advanced cable set-top boxes, but Toshiba recently shipped the first Wink-enabled television sets – which will receive data from off-air broadcasts in addition to cable.

“We currently have approximately 350,000 registered users in the cue for this year,” said Wilderotter. “We are hopeful we will bring all of those up and running this year, and when we turn DirecTv on in the first part of next year we will be looking to turn on somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million subscribers with DirecTv over the next 12 months.”