TBS gets ITV ducks in line

Mar 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The business of television was reinvented first by the growth of cable and then by the development of Internet technologies. Now the convergence of cable and the Internet-the birth of interactive television-will shatter established models of television entertainment yet again, TBS Superstation Executive Vice President Dennis Quinn told an audience Feb. 28 at the Myers Forum, “How Will Interactive TV Impact Entertainment?” in Los Angeles.
“It is going to be new, it is going to be different, and it is going to be dynamic,” Mr. Quinn said. “We’re no longer going to be relying on a select group of studios to give us programming. It’s going to change the economic model.”
Mr. Quinn, a cable industry veteran, said TBS’s interactive television efforts are still in the research and development stages. The cable network, a unit of media conglomerate AOL Time Warner, would have direct access to a large interactive network if or when affiliated multiple system operator Time Warner Cable deploys digital interactive services.
“We’re not going to have a clear-payoff equation from enhanced TV off the bat,” Mr. Quinn observed. “We’re trying to figure out what enhanced TV events our viewers value.”
However, what is already apparent, Mr. Quinn said, is that interactive television will attract viewers’ attention and keep them engaged in programs. “We look at interactive television as anything that gets you from viewing to doing,” he said. But, on the other hand, he said, “We use enhanced TV to increase time spent viewing.”
The network is also testing several different interactive television games, Mr. Quinn added. “You can vicariously and virtually explore different worlds,” he said.
TBS, like most major television networks, is planning to supplement its program lineup with interactive shows. Screamingly Different Entertainment, an interactive content development company, is creating interactive enhancements intended to be integrated into Turner Classic Movies.
But because digital interactive services haven’t yet been deployed by most multiple system operators, TBS’s current interactive offerings consist of television broadcasts’ Internet-based companion sites, to which viewers are directed in the course of watching a TBS program. TBS has enlisted the services of GoldPocket Interactive, a technology company whose EventMatrix online tool was designed to allow television broadcasters to accommodate large masses of viewers at once on the Internet. GoldPocket’s EventMatrix is being used to hold Internet traffic generated by TBS’s “Dinner & a Movie” program, which redirects viewers to its related Web site.
Aside from MSOs’ delays in rolling out digital interactive services, market participants see the lack of uniform content creation standards for interactive television as another major obstacle that the industry must overcome.
“Content creators are having to author content for all of the different boxes,” OpenTV Vice President of Strategic Accounts Anson Grossfeld told Electronic Media. Mr. Grossfeld pointed out that although many interactive television platform creators publicly endorse the standards promulgated by the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum (ATVEF), each interactive set-box requires content to be created according to slightly different specifications.
For example, Mr. Grossfeld said, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment-which has created interactive versions of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” has needed to format its programs to run on both Microsoft’s WebTV device and Liberate Technologies’ software platform for digital set-top boxes. In a separate, unrelated development, Sony shocked the industry when it decided on Feb. 23 not to continue formatting its interactive shows for Microsoft’s WebTV devices.
“It [ATVEF] is almost a meaningless standard,” Grossfeld said, adding that he expects the specification to be revised soon.
Still, once the interactive television industry irons out its wrinkles, the potential rewards are great. Forrester Research has estimated that the enhanced television market will generate more than $20 billion in revenues by 2004.