Enhanced television (ETV) applications that are synched up with live programming may finally be coming to millions of already-deployed digital cable set-tops, thanks to an integration deal between Ensequence and TVWorks, the iTV joint venture of Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications.

Under the arrangement, Ensequence will integrate its "on-Q Create" iTV authoring system with the TVWorks platform, which is designed to handle apps based on the CableLabs ETV-BIF (Enhanced Television–Binary Interchange Format) specs.

The coming deployments will mark the first time that the vast majority of legacy cable systems will be able to support enhanced TV applications, according to Ensequence VP of Marketing and Strategy Aslam Khader.

That, of course, includes support for widely-deployed thin-client boxes from Motorola and Scientific Atlanta.

In the case of Motorola boxes, the TVWorks agent will run on set-top firmware, which happens to also be running portions of the GuideWorks platform. GuideWorks is a J.V. of Comcast and Gemstar-TV Guide International. The SA boxes, meanwhile, are either running the PowerTV OS/middleware or the OnRamp to OCAP implementation.

"As an application developer, you only will have to create one ETV-BIF application that will run across those systems," Khader explained.

He said trials are slated for this year, with initial deployments expected by Q2 2007. Although specific applications aren't yet being discussed, the resulting system will support traditional ETV features such as polling and voting that are "bound" to the program being broadcast.

ETV-BIF aims to work on digital cable systems prior to the introduction of the richer OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), a CableLabs-specified middleware that will require higher-end set-tops with more processing power.

"We all wanted OCAP to happen yesterday," Khader said. "But there are already 25 million set-tops out there with no chance of running any form of OCAP. We have to get [those pre-OCAP boxes] ready to do interactive television."

TVWorks' partnership with Ensequence is just the latest in several evolutionary steps made by the joint venture. The TVWorks J.V. acquired iTV app specialist MetaTV back in mid-2005. In January 2006, TVWorks also gained control of its middleware strategy when it put up $82 million to acquire the bulk of the assets of Liberate Technologies.

Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, is applying an iTV strategy of its own with some of its pre-OCAP boxes. For its legacy Motorola footprint, for example, the MSO has inked a deal to use middleware from OpenTV Corp.