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Comcast, Cox tag-team on Liberate purchase

Sun, 01/09/2005 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner

Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications said they will jointly acquire the majority of interactive television software firm Liberate Technologies in a deal valued at about $82 million.

Under the deal, Liberate will sell the assets of its North American business to Double C Technologies LLC, a joint venture majority owned and controlled by Comcast. Cox holds a minority stake in the J.V.

Cox and Comcast said they plan to cross-license Liberate's technology and intellectual property. The agreement also gives Comcast and Cox solid control of the Liberate platform and how it is designed and deployed across their systems.

Liberate, which is presently operating under bankruptcy, is a key contributor to OnRamp to OCAP, a software platform for thin-client set-tops designed to help MSOs carve out a migration path to applications aimed for the much more robust OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), a middleware specified by CableLabs. Cox has been a champion of the OnRamp initiative despite lingering questions about Liberate's ability to remain viable in the long-term. The acquisition by the Comcast-Cox joint venture all but erases those concerns.

The deal also underscores cable's surging interest in interactive television, a position spurred by iTV products from EchoStar Communications and Rupert Murdoch's DirecTV, which is expected to use several interactive elements BSkyB has used with success in the U.K.

"Purchasing Liberate's North American assets will give us greater control over the software platform that will help drive new features that distinguish us from other providers as well as position us to be able to deliver new services that will be enabled by OCAP compliant software in the future," said Steve Silva, Comcast's executive vice president, new business development, in a statement.

Deals that give MSOs more control of set-top software are becoming more and more commonplace. Comcast established control of its interactive program guide fate through its GuideWorks venture with Gemstar TV Guide. Comcast is also involved in an OCAP partnership (called OCAP Development LLC and formed last August) with Time Warner Cable.

The Comcast-Cox combo will make employment offers to about 130 Liberate employees, primarily located in London, Ontario, Canada. Liberate, however, will hold on to its European business.

Liberate Chairman and CEO David Lockwood, meanwhile, is entering into a voting agreement with the joint venture whereby he is agreeing to vote all shares of Liberate stock owned by him - about 12 percent of the total outstanding shares of Liberate.

The deal will not close until the dismissal of Liberate's bankruptcy appeal. The agreement is also subject to Liberate shareholder approval.

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