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Company Plans TV-Related Interactive Cell Phone Games

Dialing into the fast-growing market for mobile games, a San Francisco-based startup is poised to unveil a new service on Monday that it hopes will make television viewers as hooked to their cell phones as they are to remote controls.

AirPlay Network Inc. said it will introduce a lineup of cell phone games tied to live television broadcasts.

While watching TV, subscribers could use their cell phones to compete against others in "real time" by predicting plays in sports, choosing winners on reality TV shows or picking answers on game shows.

The first product, "AirPlay Sports," is due for release in the fall to coincide with the start of the professional football season.

An NFL-related AirPlay game, for instance, would ask cell phone quarterbacks to predict the offense's next moves — a pass or a run — as the real game unfolds live on television.

Other games tied to reality TV and game shows will be launched next, according to the company.

AirPlay subscribers would have to use an Internet-connected cell phone to play. They would download games to their handsets directly through AirPlay's Web site or through a partnering wireless carrier. The subscription fee has not been disclosed yet.

"We're creating a multiplayer experience and a social network synched with television," said AirPlay CEO Morgan Guenther, a former president at TiVo Inc. (TIVO). The idea, he said, is to transform TV from a passive pastime to an engaging, competitive experience.

Guenther contends the concept differs from earlier failed attempts to make TV interactive because AirPlay uses the ever-ready cell phone as the interface instead of an Internet-connected television.

"Chances are, the cell phone is right next to them already," he said.

It also factors in the social aspects of gaming that have drawn millions of players to compete for rankings on community-like scoreboards, according to Guenther. Other game companies, such as Digital Chocolate Inc., have also introduced multiplayer-type games for the cell phone.

AirPlay is backed by $4 million from Redpoint Ventures and cell phone technology provider Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM).