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CHATTING UP ‘SOCIAL TV’

5/03/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

In a world with countless
video choices, how will
people connect to content that’s
important to them?

Motorola’s goal in the next decade
is to help operators deliver
video services that provide context
around the content, said John
Burke, senior vice president of the
company’s Mobile Devices and
Home unit.

“It’s no longer just about pushing
video to the TV,” he said.

A major piece of that, according
to the company, is “social TV”:
providing intuitive ways of sharing
content and interacting with
friends in a television setting.

Motorola is gearing up
to unveil a mediaservices
management
software suite at The Cable Show
in Los Angeles next week. A featured
demo running on top of
that “cloud computing” system
will be a social-networking application
that can connect cable
viewers with their buddies over
the Internet.

The prototype of Motorola’s
social TV application shows a
viewer what his or her friends are
currently watching (if they’ve
chosen to share that), with the
information popping up in the
channel guide. From there, you
can click to start watching a program
with your amigos and start
a chat session on the screen.

“In my mind, it’s not really
about having a conversation
— it’s about sharing an experience,”
said Crysta Metcalf, distinguished
member of the technical
staff at Motorola’s Applied Research
Center. “It’s not necessarily
about ‘Twitter on TV’… It’s
about making it as close as possible
to replicate the experience of
watching TV with your brother.”

A Web-services proxy engine
in the Motorola software suite allows
the app to connect to services
outside the walled garden. For
example, the application could
be configured to import a user’s
Facebook friends list, according
to Motorola.

Metcalf said Motorola’s research
found that “presence”
— information about what an individual
is doing at a given moment
— was a big deal around
television content. In her research,
Metcalf observed people
at home calling their friends and
relatives during a show to chat.
From there, Motorola began exploring
social TV concepts “with
very crude prototypes” of PCs
hooked up to televisions, which
led to the set-top-based application,
she said.

In the nearer term, however,
Motorola is hoping for a turnaround
in its set-top business.

Last week, the company’s
Home segment reported firstquarter
2010 sales down 18%,
to $838 million, compared with
$1.03 billion in the year-ago quarter.
The unit’s profitability improved,
with operating earnings
of $20 million versus $3 million in
the year-ago quarter.

The division shipped 3.1
million set-top boxes
and other digital entertainment
devices the quarter
— down about 28% from 4.3 million
in the first quarter of 2009.

Still, Motorola is “cautiously
optimistic” that spending trends
in the video and broadband sector
are improving, Burke said.

“We are seeing good strength
on the infrastructure side,” he
said. “I think the industry took a
bit of a pause on their investment
in video infrastructure last year
and we have seen that rebound
in the last two quarters.”

Motorola plans to split into
two separate companies by the
first quarter of 2011: one that
merges mobile devices and
Home, and the other combining
its wireless networking and
enterprise units.

September