ESPN, Liberate Team on iTV Rollout

Sports cable channel ESPN is readying a new slew of interactive and on-demand features for cable customers of Insight Communications with the help of interactive television middleware maker Liberate Technologies .

The new offerings include a package called “ESPN Today Plus VOD,” which features interactive sports information and advertisements. Viewers will be able to click through data feeds during sports broadcasts and link to commerce and advertising pitches.

ESPN, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co. , already provides some interactive content to subscribers via direct satellite broadcaster DirectTV. The current arrangement with cable provider Insight comes on the heels of a similar VOD enhanced content package with Cablevision Systems , which ranks among the most aggressive cable operators in rolling out enhanced interactive services.

The video-on-demand products are to be integrated with Liberate VOD Hub middleware, which helps viewers order short form and long form VOD content and “tailor” the extent of on-demand content they want to download.

In addition, the enhanced features include sports stats and interactive ticker information that viewers can see while watching ESPN’s programming.

The ESPN alliance comes at a difficult time for the cable industry and, by extension, iTV software makers such as the San Carlos, Calif.-based Liberate. With Philadelphia cable provider Adelphia Communications staggering toward bankruptcy after revelations that it was liable for about $3 billion worth of debt it kept off its balance sheet, the whole industry’s accounting practices have become suspect as well.

Insight Communications is the 9th largest cable operator in the United States, serving approximately 1.4 million customers.

Messages with an Insight spokesperson regarding how the enhanced interactive services would be priced were not returned by presstime. A call to a Liberate spokesman for comment was not returned.

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