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The New Television: Interactive TV by any other name

Jan 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Of the following, which has been the biggest failure of the past few years?
a. The Cincinnati Bengals
b. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays
c. Jennifer Lopez’s marriages
d. “The Michael Richards Show”
e. Interactive TV
Well, if you believe in the all-powerful search engine of Google.com, the answer is … Interactive TV!
When you do a Google search for “Interactive TV” + “failure” you get 6,870 results. The “Cincinnati Bengals” + “failure” is a distant second with 1,470 references. (The “Bungles” can’t even finish first in a “failure” contest.) Ms. Lopez’s spotty marital record generates 1,040 “failure” references, while the lowly Devil Rays (106 losses in 2002) get 891 and the ill-fated sitcom from the former Cosmo Kramer gets just 136.
Interactive TV enthusiasts might take comfort that when you search for “Interactive TV” + “success,” you get 28,300 results. However, nearly all references are to newspaper and magazine articles that say Interactive TV has not been a success.
Conclusion: Interactive TV has more baggage than American Tourister. It has become the Edsel, the New Coke, the Nehru jacket of modern technology. Now I wrote the book on Interactive TV-literally. I am the author of “TV Dot Com: The Future of Interactive Television.” So what am I doing? Am I suggesting that the technology is doomed?
Not at all.
The next big thing?
But I am saying that the technology will not advance until the term is abandoned. In fact, the term is doing more to hurt the TV tech industry than perhaps any other single factor.
How can two little words do such damage?
Interactive TV has been called the “next big thing” for more than 10 years. However, the technology has not come close to living up to its promise. Consequently, the term has become synonymous with failure. Both print and broadcast journalists frequently report that ITV has yet to match forecasts, many of which were made during the boom times of the past decade. (For instance, Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff said in 1999, “As an advertising medium Interactive TV will rival the Internet within three years.” Not quite, Josh.)
The very words Interactive TV now have such a negative connotation it’s hard for Interactive TV companies, such as Liberate and OpenTV, to persuade journalists to give them a fair shake. And if that weren’t bad enough, Interactive TV is often used as a catchphrase for all new TV technologies, such as video-on-demand, digital video recording, Internet TV and, at times, even digital TV. Because these new technologies are lumped in the ITV category, companies that support them have the same difficulty winning over the media and, ultimately, consumers. And that’s a shame, because many of these new technologies, such as VOD and DVRs, are starting to take off.
The new television
The irony is that “Interactive TV” will finally-finally-begin to actually see the light of day in 2003. Cable and satellite TV operators are expected to phase in several interactive television applications, including Comcast’s “video links,” which will permit viewers to access related programming information. The jury is still out as to whether passive TV viewers are interested in interacting with their televisions. However, if the new features are labeled “Interactive TV,” good luck getting a fair hearing from the media.
I strongly recommend that the industry abandon the term Interactive TV once and for all. It’s a loser-and no one can even clearly define it. The new term for emerging TV technologies should be The New Television. The New Television would include all new TV technologies, from digital TV to HDTV to VOD to interactive video games to anything that enhances traditional television viewing. With this term, the industry could always point to success stories, which would keep the media focused on the positive. If DVRs slump, no problem. Play up VOD. If VOD slumps, no problem. Play up HDTV. And so on.
“The New Television” would also be better understood and accepted by consumers. The term would suggest that new and exciting things are happening to your TV. Who doesn’t want that? However, when consumers hear Interactive TV, it sounds as though it’s going to be a lot of work.
And who wants that?
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. To suggest a new name to describe emerging TV technologies, send it to him in an e-mail. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.