MasterCard International said it has joined a group organized by Oracle Corp. to share ideas and discuss technical standards for interactive television.
Known as the Oracle Set-Top Alliance, the effort has attracted a broad range of technology suppliers, including Mitsubishi Electronics, Scientific Atlanta Inc., Toshiba Corp., IBM Corp., Apple Computer Inc., and Philips Consumer Electronics Co.
MasterCard said it is the first payments organization to join, but Visa U.S.A. said it has signed up and plans to participate as well.
Oracle, the Redwood City, Calif.-based software company known for its sophisticated data base systems, launched the project in January in hopes of speeding the development of interactive television and information services delivered through so-called set-top boxes.
Jody Hancock, senior vice president of MasterCard, said the company wants to contribute "a payments industry perspective to ensure integrity and security within the electronic payment system."
MasterCard can help create the missing link that allows for payments to be completed through interactive TV, said Ben Linder, vice president of marketing in Oracle Corp.'s new media division.
The group is discussing card readers - accommodating either magnetic stripe cards or smart cards - and printers that can be attached to set-top boxes.
"We see cooperation among Oracle, MasterCard, and hardware manufacturers as pushing the state of the art," Mr. Linder said.
Interactive television has faced negative publicity since the collapse last year of the proposed merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. and Tele- Communications Inc., which heralded the supposed convergence of telephones and cable TV.
Bankers have been more interested in personal computer networks and screen telephones. Interactive TV lost the hype now associated with the Internet's World Wide Web as well as some smart card applications.
Still, Ms. Hancock said, technologies as far-reaching as interactive television "start and restart" more than once. "Smart cards had a false start, but are now taking off; the Internet not long ago was just a term for many of us, but is now growing tremendously," she said.
MasterCard wants to be "ahead of the curve or at least ride the wave" when interactive TV's time comes, Ms. Hancock added.
Similarly, a Visa spokesman said that company is working with several interactive TV players "because we think this will eventually be an important place to be."
Mr. Linder said hundreds of interactive tests are in progress and "will start to be very visible this summer." One is a Bell Atlantic experiment in Washington that is slated to include 10,000 homes by the end of the year.
Dale Reistad, chairman of Interactive Finsys International, an Alexandria, Va., consulting firm, said MasterCard made a "smart move."
"The more organizations that form these kinds of alliances," he said, "the closer we get to a general consensus that interactive TV is a valuable delivery vehicle for banking services ... Market research in recent months elevates the importance of banking transactions in the overall scheme of things," Mr. Reistad said.