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What Interactive TV Needs

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Will interactive TV make it?
There may not be a greater mystery in the industry. For more than 10 years, interactive TV has been called the next big thing. However, despite impressive gains in Europe, the technology has been left at the gate in the United States. Many observers question whether passive TV viewers really want to interact with their sets.
“Why would I need my TV to order a pizza?” asks Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. “I can just pick up the phone.”
In my TVPredictions.com newsletter, I recently invited TV executives to offer their ideas on how ITV can turn things around. I received scores of e-mail and phone calls from officials eager to advance the cause. Interactive TV may be short on subscribers, but industry enthusiasm remains strong.
The consensus is that ITV won’t take off until the cable industry decides to roll out services en masse. This is scheduled to occur in the next year or two after cable operators further deployment of other TV technologies such as video-on-demand, high-definition TV and digital video recorders.
However, based on my interviews, I have concluded that the ITV business needs to take these three steps before it will succeed in the United States: (Note: When I say “interactive TV,” I’m referring to the traditional definition of ITV-two-way features that permit users to interact directly with the screen, such as TV shopping, Internet surfing and games. I am not including VOD, HDTV and DVRs, which some officials call ITV.)
1. Do more research: ITV officials say confidently that U.S. viewers will interact with their TVs-if they get the opportunity. However, there is little evidence to support this. The industry often cites heavy ITV usage in Europe but neglects to note that the average European doesn’t have a home PC. U.S. viewers may embrace ITV, but the industry needs to offer more proof before cable and satellite operators will commit.
2. Offer compelling, revenue-generating content: Until now, the industry has not exactly been a rainmaker, providing fun but noncash-producing applications such as accessible sports stats, interactive game shows and Internet TV. The ITV industry needs to offer content such as gambling, online dating and other sex-related services, and video gaming. ITV companies also must develop applications that are exclusive to the TV.
3. Build an audience: Generally speaking, the ITV world preaches to the choir, issuing press releases to trade publications and attending industry conferences. To date there has not been a national awareness campaign for interactive TV. The industry should make consumer education important. If it doesn’t, everything else won’t matter.
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions .com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.