Microsoft Invests $30 Million in Wink Communications

Last week, Microsoft and Wink Communications announced an agreement to promote interactive content and commerce based on the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum (ATVEF) specification for interactive television. Wink Communications says it will optimize its Response Network Service (which provides the broadcast and cable-television industries with viewer-response services) to support ATVEF-compliant content for television devices that use the Microsoft television-software platform. In turn, Microsoft claims that it will use Wink's Response Network to handle certain ATVEF-based advertising direct-response services. As part of the agreement, Microsoft invested $30 million in Wink Communications.

Wink intends to provide ATVEF-capable enhanced-television tools for broadcast and cable networks and advertisers. The companies claim that their combined offerings will help accelerate the wide adoption of interactive television, which they say will initially be realized through TV-based electronic-commerce and advertising responses. Microsoft's WebTV Network service adds that it will make Wink's services available to its customers.

Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Wink Communications, says, "We are interested in accelerating the market for interactive television, and we've been an ATVEF adopter for some time now. Our goal is to incorporate ATVEF into all of our tools and accelerate the deployment of enhanced broadcasting and interactive services. Our relationship with Microsoft will make that happen even faster, as Wink and its customers will benefit from Microsoft's industry leadership in developing software for enhanced television devices and in providing enhanced television services directly to consumers."

According to Wink, its Response Network Service allows cable and network operators to collect television viewer responses generated from interactive television commercials and programming based on the ATVEF specification. Viewers can request information from advertisers or order products with their remote control; their responses are then routed to Wink's data center for fulfillment.

The ATVEF specification is intended to define a content format for interactive television based on such Internet standards as HTML and IP multicasting. According to the ATVEF, content based on the specification can be delivered by analog and digital terrestrial, satellite, and cable systems, and it can be received by any ATVEF-compliant set-top box, digital TV, or PC. This eliminates the need for broadcasters to develop multiple versions of their programming.