IBM Pushing For Two-Way In TV In Talks With Nation's Cable Firms

NEW YORK - IBM is discussing linkups with the nation's largest cable TV operators as part of the computer maker's plan to provide two-way television services, industry executives close to the talks said yesterday.

IBM is in discussions with Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's biggest cable system operator, Continental Cablevision Inc., the third largest, and Viacom International Inc., another major operator, the executives said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As previously reported, IBM is negotiating with Time Warner Inc., the nation's second-largest cable system operator, about such a linkup.

International Business Machines Corp. wants to establish a nationwide network to send "interactive" programming to televisions in homes and offices via cable TV.

Because of the fractured nature of the cable industry, IBM will need cooperation from most of the major cable operators to bring the scheme about. The Chicago area, example, is served by at least five cable systems with different owners.

But bringing the cable industry together may be a daunting task. The companies have a history of animosity brought on in part by their early competition for franchise awards.

An IBM spokesman, David Harrah, said the computer company is "pursing and being pursued by most of the people in the business," but he declined to identify the companies involved.

Tele-Communications, or TCI, confirmed it has had talks with IBM, but declined to give details. "We are certainly interested in what they have to say on a range of different subjects," TCI spokesman Bob Thompson said.

Spokesmen for Continental Cablevision and Viacom said they had no comment.

IBM's discussions with Time Warner center on establishing a joint venture company that would own and operate a nationwide interactive TV delivery system. As part of the negotiations, IBM is considering investing $500 million in a Time Warner subsidiary that owns its cable and movie operations, industry executives have said.

The executives said it was undecided whether IBM and Time Warner would bring the other cable TV operators into their venture, or whether the arrangements with them would be separate.

Though IBM and Time Warner have not confirmed their talks, the computer giant has described its vision of the interactive TV system it wants to establish.

IBM would supply technology for sending vast amounts of computerized data, such as video images, over the high capacity fiber-optic lines the cable companies increasingly are using to send their signals over long distance. IBM also says it can send this interactive video over the conventional coaxial cable that goes into subscribers' homes.

In addition, IBM could provide data storage devices to hold movies and TV shows that have been turned into computer code. These digital images would be sent to consumers on demand.

The result would be "video libraries" that could replace video rental stores, allowing customers to select almost any movie at any time.