Oracle makes New Zealand set-top box move

New Zealand has been targeted by a new company, ICE Interactive, as part of a test market for delivering enhanced television content to set-tops and other information appliances.

New Zealand has been targeted by a new company, ICE Interactive, as part of a test market for delivering enhanced television content to set-tops and other information appliances.

ICE (information, communications and entertainment) Interactive is a joint-venture company formed by Oracle Australia, US-based Liberate Technologies, and West Australian-based venture company Burdekin Resources, which has put $A15 million into the company for a 40% share. Oracle has 15%, Liberate 10%, an employee option plan 30%, and 5% is reserved for the first anchor customer with a large subscriber base.

"We're in discussions with several potential anchor customers both in New Zealand and Australia," says Oracle e-business general manager Stuart McLean. "The successful participant could be a utility, a telco, an ISP - even a bank."

Liberate is a listed company on the Nasdaq, formed from the previous Oracle-owned Network Computer and a division of Netscape, which developed a browser for interactive TV.

"The market is ready for the techno-logy but no one wanted to make a decision in Australia," McLean says.

"There was a lot of confusion over digital television, cable TV and other technologies.

"We did research specifically in New Zealand for Australia and New Zealand. We got a 100% result in favour of interactive TV from interviewing people on the street. They even began ringing up and asking where they could buy it.

"The market is for everyone who can't afford a PC or who finds a PC too complicated."

Pricing has yet to be established and will depend on the business model adopted. McLean likens it to the cellphone model where a unit may cost from nothing to several hundred dollars.

"It will definitely be well below the price of a PC."

He says Oracle has spent the past 12 months beta-testing the technology, undergoing trials and establishing the market's readiness to accept interactive television.

"Partnering with Liberate, which provides a solid software platform for the delivery of enhanced services for television, has enabled us to focus on our strengths - providing the back-end enterprise grade software to provide an integrated solution for interactive TV," he says.

"By outsourcing this specialised part of its business to ICE Interactive, Oracle will be able to continue to focus on its business-to-business initiatives.

"The formation of ICE Interactive will still allow Oracle to play a part in and benefit from the interactive TV explosion about to take place."

According to Forrester Research, iTV is an important emerging market with worldwide revenues of $US18 billion predicted in advertising and commerce by 2004.

ICE Interactive will bring together broadcast television, Internet publishing services and data broadcasting to deliver compelling bundled information entertainment services to consumers over the set-top box, McLean says.

The company will work with network operators and telecommunications companies to deliver these services using existing infrastructure; the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and any television.

ICE will also work independently and with technology partners to develop new applications for interactive TV.

Liberate Technologies currently has agreements in place with global and domestic US companies, including AOL, Cable & Wireless, Cox Media and US West.

Carl Braden, currently Oracle's business development manager, e-business, interactive services, has been selected as managing director of the new operation.

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