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Milia aims to drive up demand for ITV

Feb 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Keep it simple, stupid.
That pretty much sums up the philosophy of interactive TV providers who attended last week’s Milia conference in regard to attracting new customers.
Interactive TV providers are discovering that consumers aren’t really motivated by sales pitches touting Internet access through their televisions, nor are they wowed by the ability to buy the proverbial pizza with one click of a remote control.
“People want to be entertained,” said David Limp, vice president of corporate development for Liberate Technologies, at a panel on interactive TV. “They gravitate toward things that are very easy to use and entertaining.”
Mr. Limp said Liberate has about 1 million subscribers, and research from that subscriber base shows that the most popular interactive features are soap opera updates in the United States and games and e-mail in the United Kingdom.
Canal Plus, which has 8.7 million digital set-top boxes deployed worldwide that are running its software, announced its solution to consumer confusion-a new navigation system called IntuiTV.
Michel Campioni, vice president of strategic planning and business development for Canal Plus Technologies, said the product will allow users to seamlessly navigate through traditional TV, interactive TV and the Internet. It will include access to a walled-garden portal, personal video recording capabilities and e-mail.
Even Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Marie Messier jumped on the simplicity bandwagon in his keynote address.
“Our strategy is quite simple: Begin with the consumer,” he said. “Consumers are looking for easily usable, localized and personalized services.”
He said people won’t be ready to pay for services such as a subscription-based personal jukebox unless they are simple and easy to use.
While just a year or two ago ITV providers were saying a big incentive for consumers to sign up was the ability to access the Internet through the TV, they now seem to have changed their tune.
“Putting the Internet on top of television is an awful way to go,” Mr. Limp said. “We tried it. The ITV consumer is just not interested in surfing the Web.
“The thing that drives TV is not technology, it’s content. The killer application in this space is more likely to come from `Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ or `Big Brother’ than anything developed in Silicon Valley.”
Regis Saint Girons, managing director for Europe, OpenTV, France, said his company has steered away from a PC-centric focus. “It’s not about PC, not about the Web. It’s about TV,” he said.
That thought was echoed by David Bogi, interactive services manager, RaiSat, Italy, who looks at interactive television from the programming side. RaiSat offers six interactive channels.
“The model in the USA-Internet-driven, PC-centered convergence model-is not the only possible model,” he said. “The European convergence model is more articulated … better suited to TV.”
Europe and the United States have also collided over the issue of digital interactive TV standards.
In November 1999, Europe’s Digital Video Broadcasting group agreed to use a Java-based MHP standard-something U.S. companies have been slow to formally accept.
MHP stands for Multimedia Home Platform-a software specification that allows digital applications and devices such as set-top boxes, televisions, the Internet, PCs and telecommunications products to interconnect. Having a worldwide standard would make life a lot easier for interactive content providers because they would only have to produce interactive programming once and be guaranteed it would work on any set-top box in the world.
Most of the interactive TV providers at Milia agreed the key element to getting ITV off the ground is adopting the MHP standard.
“Standardization is critical in any new industry,” Mr. Limp said. He said Liberate supports the MHP standard. Canal Plus and Open TV also have committed to MHP.
Among other news at Milia:
* OpenTV, which had 11 million set-top boxes in use as of September, announced a partnership with France’s Minisat to develop a classified ad service for interactive television. The company also signed a deal with network operator Multichoice in South Africa to offer OpenTV’s e-mail service.
* Vivendi Universal’s Mr. Messier announced Vivendi Publishing’s newest project-Web portal education.com. The Web site targeting the United States and European countries will launch in English, French and German, with Spanish and Portuguese to be added soon after. The site will include reference material, self-tests for kids, education news and areas for teachers and parents. Mr. Messier said he expects the site to reach break-even by the end of 2002, with revenues coming from subscriptions, downloads and advertising.
* U.S.-based Silvertech unveiled its new eMovies Internet division, which will provide secure housing and digital delivery of movies over the Internet. Silvertech CEO and founder El St. John claimed it has the technology to store more than 10,000 feature films on its servers for downloading at any time. James Dowaliby, formerly vice president of production, international division, for Paramount Pictures Television Group, will head the venture as chief executive.