ITV execs maintain broadband is key

Apr 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

As high-speed data delivery methods grow in popularity, TVs will no longer just be those boxes at which people yell the answers while “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” flickers on the screen.
Interactive television applications-such as playing along with game shows-are expected to explode in popularity as broadcasts are delivered in conjunction with high-speed Internet access or broadband.
“The expansion of broadband networks is going to be very important to this industry,” said Michael Pohl, president of nCube, a streaming media infrastructure provider. “With broadband-and I’m defining broadband as anything above a dial-up speed-you’re going to see a whole new level of interactivity.”
Regardless of connection type, industry experts agree that high-speed delivery will escalate demand for interactive features for programs and advertisements.
Currently, most people who access interactive features for television, such as playing along with ABC’s “Millionaire” or getting statistics during “Monday Night Football,” do so through their PC’s dial-up modem, which can take a long time to log on and can be sluggish. As broadband accelerates that process, industry watchers say widespread use of such interactive features, and the creation of new ones, will soon follow.
“Probably the most important thing [about broadband], which is the least flashy, is the fact that it’s always on,” said Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for the Microsoft TV platform group, which sells software for set-top boxes and servers that allows companies to offer interactive TV.
As the industry grows, entrepreneurs will continue to develop new features that will become standard on future interactive systems. Said Mr. Graczyk, “Whatever you surmise today, no doubt there will be synergies, but there will be lots of things we didn’t even envision.”
Marlin Davis, chairman and CEO of Screamingly Different Entertainment, believes one development we may soon see is more one-screen enhancements, which would allow users to access interactive features through their TV sets instead of through the PC. “You cannot watch your computer screen and the TV at the same time,” he said. “You’re not going to see good business models and revenue streams until there are one-screen enhancements. The enhanced `Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ is a good example that you can interact [with], but it cannibalizes eyeballs.”
Many of these points will be discussed next week at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas, where Mr. Davis and Mr. Pohl will speak on a panel addressing the market for interactive television. In addition, John Sidgmore, vice chairman of WorldCom, will deliver a keynote speech on the implications of the widespread rollout of broadband on the broadcasting and communications world.
When interactive applications are available on one screen, at the touch of a remote, industry insiders say we may begin to see a big push toward developing interactive features for programs other than sports or game shows.
“The next step is developing interactive applications for sitcoms and dramas,” said Michael Goodman, senior analyst for The Yankee Group.
Applying interactive elements to those shows is more challenging than, say, sports, which is well-suited to changing camera angles and obtaining statistics. Such features as polls and choose-your-own endings may be more viable possibilities for other kinds of programs.
Meanwhile, a major challenge is and will continue to be advertising.
“I love my TiVo, but I never watch commercials,” said Tom Gillis, senior vice president and general manager of entertainment services for iBeam. “The technology is perfectly capable of skipping over the ads, so advertisers are going to have to say, `How else can I present this advertising to the consumer?”’
Sponsorships and product placement are going to grow in importance, as is interactive advertising, experts say.
“Down the road, you can click on an item that you see someone using and find out more or place an order,” The Yankee Group’s Mr. Goodman said. “But anytime you have a click-on, it’s a disadvantage to the rest of the commercials. The value of the fourth commercial is much less than the first commercial. Those are issues that have yet to be resolved.”