Japanese Jump on Interactive Web TV

Japanese electronics giants Sony (NYSE: SNE ), Matsushita, and Toshiba announced Monday that they are banding together to develop interactive services for digital television.

The new venture set to launch this fall will include a wide range of digital TV services such as tele-shopping and on-demand music and video games. The companies will join forces with a fourth electronics maker Hitachi to develop an open e-business platform that will link the broadcast services with the Internet and give clients Web access through set-top boxes.

Major Expansion

Satellite broadcasting is set to explode in Japan in the coming months with all five of the country’s commercial broadcasting firms planning to begin offering digital TV services in December using broadcast satellites.

Two of the partners, Sony and Matsushita, are fierce competitors. Their rivalry in the broadcast equipment market has lead Matsushita to turn to digital broadcasting to challenge Sony’s stronghold on the market.

Downplaying the bad blood between the companies, Sony Vice Chairman Tamotsu Iba told reporters, “The relationship between Sony and Matsushita is not as bad as people think. When it comes to the era of e-business, we need to ensure open platforms and technology. And customers would be the biggest victim and demand would be stagnant if we were to adopt separate standards for upcoming digital broadcasting.”

Last week Sony announced that it had purchased a 10 percent stake in one of Japan’s largest cable TV operators, Tokyu Corporation. At the time it said it planned to distribute game software and offer other services over Tokyu’s network.

Laying the Groundwork

The companies said that they plan to share development costs in order to develop a single standard for interactive TV technology. They intend to develop new technology that will include copy protection, data storage, and pay-per use technology for TV receivers to be equipped with hard-disks.

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