CANADIAN TV VENTURE IS DELAYED

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Following the lead of its U.S. counterparts, an ambitious interactive TV service planned for north of the border has been delayed.

Citing technical hold-ups, UBI postponed the launch of its system in Chicoutimi, Quebec, to March 1996 from September 1995. In a related move, UBI parent Groupe Videotron will take over development and construction of set-top boxes for the system, ending a one-year relationship with IBM Corp.

UBI intends to roll into 34,000 homes in northern Quebec with a variety of interactive services including shopping, couponing, home energy automation and home banking.

The project has assembled a blue-chip list of backers, including Groupe Videotron, a Montreal telecommunications company; Hearst Corp., which is developing an interactive Yellow Pages; Hydro-Quebec; Canada Post Corp.; National Bank of Canada; and the Quebec Lottery.

Hearst said it's concerned about the absence of IBM from the project.

"We're trying to assess the impact of IBM's reduced role," said Charles Schott, VP of Hearst New Media & Technology. "The key thing was IBM was originally developing the set-top boxes. How [Videotron] will do that will have implications for the service we are providing."

He said Hearst remains a partner in the consortium and isn't looking to take its Yellow Pages service to other interactive TV systems.

UBI now will start testing the system in a few hundred households before yearend. Rollout will start next March, with the goal of wiring all 34,000 homes by June 1996.

Unlike interactive TV systems planned for the U.S., UBI does not include video on demand and therefore is much less technologically sophisticated.

IBM will still develop transaction server software for UBI. A spokesman for IBM Canada said the decision to end the set-top box relationship with Groupe Videotron was mutual.

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