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Microsoft adds chat software to TV offerings

The software giant unveils one of the first chat applications for the television, developed by The Kiss Principle, a Silicon Valley interactive media firm.

Microsoft wants to help you talk to your television.

Last week at the Western Show in Los Angeles, the company unveiled one of the first chat applications for the television, developed by The Kiss Principle, a Silicon Valley interactive media firm. Designed as an application for Microsoft's TV suite of enhanced television services, TV chat allows viewers to carry on virtual discussions via the remote control or a wireless keyboard.

Similar in concept to features already offered on Microsoft's WebTV, TV Chat will allow television viewers to create communities around their favorite programming, much like Web sites and Internet portals foster discussion groups according to popular topics, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft TV is a client and server software suite that the company markets to cable and satellite providers, encompassing both the back-end nuts-and-bolts software residing with the television provider and the client-side software that operates a TV set-top box.

But, so far, the results of the company's efforts in the enhanced television business have been mixed at best. Despite much talk and many announcements, Microsoft has yet to fully deliver on its promises of widespread online shopping and communication via the television. In addition, the company's best known television offering, WebTV, has had difficulty gaining subscribers and momentum.

In adding this type of feature, Microsoft is taking a page from the online portal wars, attempting to add "stickiness" that will bring viewers back online to view additional ads, purchase products and pay for incremental services. By creating and fostering communities, the thinking goes, cable and satellite companies who are Microsoft's potential customers will find the services more viable for long-term revenues.

The technology essentially allows viewers to pick from pre-programmed responses to questions and discussion topics, using the remote or keyboard, according to Steven Ericsson-Zenith, CEO of The Kiss Principle.

"Chat becomes the interface," he said, adding that the technology will eventually be expanded to work on handheld and palm-size PCs, cell phones and Microsoft's WebTV set-top box as well. "TV Chat is conventional chat, in the way you imagine chat today."

The technology is equipped to work with television ratings and filters, Ericsson-Zenith said. "It ensure you're not watching adult chat while you're watching television--we're sensitive to the need for ratings compliance," he said.