Worldspan makes big step toward ITV deployment

Just three months after announcing plans to become a player in the interactive television arena, Worldspan has taken a major step toward the deployment of its ITV travel application. The Atlanta-based GDS, which has emerged as a leader in the online world, has signed technology and development deals with Microsoft and Meta TV, two big players in the ITV business, and has revealed plans to roll out its application in limited test markets by the end of the year.
Worldspan’s travel applications will allow network operators to offer subscribers a comprehensive set of travel planning services via interactive TV that will allow couch potatoes to research and book flights, hotels, rental cars and tours.
Worldspan announced at the annual convention of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) last week, that it has entered into an agreement with ITV technology provider MetaTV to develop travel applications for interactive TV. MetaTV will help Worldspan design, develop, deploy and host its interactive travel applications.
“Travel represents a huge market for interactive television, and we are pleased to be working with Worldspan ... on this exciting new interactive TV travel application,” said Andrew Lev, president and CEO of MetaTV. “We look forward to leveraging Worldspan`s leadership position to roll out a complete package of services and technology that will enable TV viewers to easily make travel arrangements.”
Under terms of the agreement, Worldspan will utilize the MetaTV Universal Portal Platform to develop its interactive TV travel applications. MetaTV will re-purpose Worldspan`s information into TV-like content designed to create a compelling interactive travel experience for cable and satellite subscribers. With the Meta TV solution, Worldspan’s content can be deployed to network and satellite operator portals that run across all major interactive TV platforms including Worldgate, Liberate, and Open TV, says Michael Hirsch, Worldspan’s senior business development analyst for interactive television.
Worldspan also announced its participation in the Microsoft TV Content Builder Initiative (CBI), which will allow Worldspan to utilize Microsoft TV resources and support for development of travel-oriented interactive TV (iTV) applications to run on the Microsoft TV platform—a standards-based, client and server software family that enables network operators and their partners to deliver interactive TV services to consumers.
“Travel content—everything from researching trip options to booking complete vacation packages—will be a valuable component of the interactive TV environment,” said David Witus, director of content programs, Microsoft TV Group. “We are pleased Worldspan has chosen to further leverage its experience in delivering personalized travel information over multiple devices by developing travel applications for the Microsoft TV platform.”
As a member of CBI, Microsoft will provide Worldspan with Motorola DCT-5000+ advanced set-top boxes for development of interactive TV applications running on Microsoft TV Advanced client software. The CBI provides a framework for members of the Microsoft TV Developer Program that are working on interactive TV programming to create solutions for the Microsoft TV platform, delivered in a broadband, advanced set-top box environment.
According to Neil Bainton, Worldspan’s vice president of worldwide e-commerce, although ITV is in its infancy, the GDS already has some solid plans to test the applications with cable and satellite operators.
“We’ll have live examples before end of year,” Bainton says.
Bainton says the first live test will be in the fourth quarter when AT&T rolls out its ITV offering in Tacoma, Wash. Bainton say other such deals are in the works, but he can’t reveal details yet.
Hirsch says there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to ITV. There is little research about how consumers will use ITV, the technology needed to access ITV services is still in a relatively primitive stage and system operators have been slow to roll out services.
But Bainton says he’s confident that ITV will be a part of the future and believes Worldspan is in the right place to offer its services via interactive TV. He expects that early adopters will be those who were early Internet adopters and will be interested in the specialized applications and those who for a variety of reasons don’t currently have access to the Internet and will use ITV as an access point to the World Wide Web.
Cable operators rolling out ITV services include AOL Time Warner, Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, and Adelphia Communications. Other providers of ITV services and technology include: Microsoft, OpenTV, Liberate Technologies, Commerce TV, Wink Communications, and TiVo.