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3/20/2006
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AirPlay Hopes To Merge Live TV With Mobile Phones

The service would allow viewers to use their cellular phones as gaming devices to, for example, choose winners and losers in reality TV programs, compete against contestants in game shows, and predict plays in football games and other sporting events.

Startup AirPlay Network Inc. on Monday unveiled plans to launch in the fall multiplayer interactive games for mobile phones that would be synchronized with live sports and other TV programming.

AirPlayTV would enable viewers to use their cellular phones as gaming devices to, for example, choose winners and losers in reality TV programs, compete against contestants in game shows and predict plays in football games and other sporting events. The games would be tied to social networks, so a person could play with other AirPlay subscribers.

"This type of capability brings people back to live TV and engages the consumer more," Morgan Guenther, chief executive and chairman of San Francisco-based AirPlay, said. "We can give people a more immersive experience that we believe is a win for everyone in the industry."

The way Guenther sees it, carriers will benefit financially from more people using their data services longer, and program producers and networks would get a more involved audience that could be reached more effectively by advertisers. Provided consumers don't get walloped by unexpected cellular-phone fees, they get to have fun by doing more than just passively watching a program.

Julie Ask, analyst for JupiterResearch, said teenagers and young adults are using data services more on their mobile phones, particularly text messaging. Beyond messaging, participation in polls is among the biggest categories for data services. Fully, 7 percent of online mobile subscribers participate in some type of voting, according to JupiterResearch.

Carriers are also reporting significant levels of use of data services. Verizon Wireless at the end of last year said 46 percent of its customers used some type of data service, while Sprint reported 44 percent.

"There's definitely a market there, but it's a young one," Ask said.

For AirPlay to be successful, it will need to connect its service with TV programs watched by teenagers and young adults, who are most likely to use their phones for more than just voice. Programs attractive to these groups include Comedy Central, MTV and reality TV.

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