NBCU, EchoStar Cook Up Interactive “Chef”


NBC Universal and EchoStar Communications Corporation will use software from Portland, Ore.-based Ensequence to provide interactive broadcasts of Bravo's reality show Top Chef 3 Miami to EchoStar’s DISH Network subscribers.

The interactive Top Chef 3 Miami broadcasts on EchoStar will incorporate content that is “pushed” in advance to the set-top box and accessed via the remote control, as well as synchronized voting and polling applications that will “pull” viewer responses through the set-top's phone line or broadband connection and allow results to be tallied and broadcast to viewers in real-time. Bravo has already tested such interactivity for Top Chef on the cable platform, in partnership with Time Warner Cable.

DISH subscribers watching Top Chef 3 Miami will be asked to answer polls about which chef should “pack their knives” each week, and can participate in trivia questions about the judges and specific episodic content. Viewers will get real-time notification of correct answers, as well as seeing the national voting results during the broadcast.

“It’s fully interactive and completely synchronized to the video,” says Ensequence CEO Dalen Harrison. “It’s an exciting play-along application that engages consumers at a whole new level with their favorite shows.”

The “Top Chef” collaboration with EchoStar is the first program that Ensequence, a seven-year-old company backed by a mix of venture capital and private investors, has worked on for NBCU. Other programmers who use Ensequence’s interactive TV software include the BBC, Disney, MTV, QVC, TV Guide and Major League Baseball, which is using it on its broadband platform.

Ensequence sells interactive software to cable operators as well, and currently counts Cox and Comcast as customers. At the NCTA show in Las Vegas this spring the company demonstrated software that complied with both the OCAP (OpenCable Application Platform)  standard, which is designed for the latest digital set-tops, and EBIF (Enhanced Binary Interchange Format), which works with legacy set-tops. The pitch to programmers is to allow them to author interactive content once and then publish it on multiple platforms.

“What we are helping these guys do is to help their content scale across all these platforms,” says Harrison.