Murdoch Interactive

Apr 14, 2003  •  Post A Comment

What is the best hope for Interactive TV in the United States?
It’s a 72-year-old man named Rupert.
Rupert Murdoch, that is. The News Corp. chief may be the world’s most enthusiastic supporter of two-way interactive television. Murdoch’s BSkyB, the satellite TV service in Great Britain, offers everything from interactive gaming to gambling to video dating. In fact, Murdoch spent a small fortune converting BSkyB to a digital, interactive format. He also has ITV services in Italy and Australia.
Now Murdoch has made a deal to buy DirecTV, this country’s largest satellite TV business. And his partner, John Malone’s Liberty Media, has control of three Interactive TV software businesses-OpenTV, Wink and ACTV.
Do you have any doubt what Murdoch will do with DirecTV?
Well, if you do, take note of last week’s announcement that DirecTV is adding the TVG Network to its lineup. TVG, the horse racing channel, permits fans to place wagers on the Net and by phone in states where it’s legal. However, TVG also has developed an interactive TV program that will let you bet on-screen with your remote control. DirecTV says it will not launch the ITV feature yet, but. …
“We look forward to exploring the future use of interactive applications to enhance the TVG viewing experience,” said Michael Thornton, DirecTV’s senior VP of programming acquisitions.
You can bet on that. TVG is owned by a partnership of Gemstar-TV Guide and Murdoch’s News Corp.
The TVG Network has been in existence for several years. But DirecTV now decides to add the channel-just as Murdoch makes an offer for the company. It seems that DirecTV is getting ready for the new management.
Pressure On Cable
Of course, interactive TV already has plenty of enthusiasts in the United States; what it needs is subscribers. But Murdoch understands what consumers want from the technology. Unlike some wide-eyed ITV advocates who envision a day when people will order pizzas, surf the Net and watch TV at the same time, Murdoch knows that ITV must be simple. And the media mogul knows that ITV works best when it fulfills base desires, which explains his investment in TVG’s gambling service.
By buying DirecTV, Murdoch can now single-handedly revitalize the Interactive TV industry. He may launch new, exciting services to millions of viewers-and cable operators may follow suit to stay competitive. That doesn’t mean Americans will embrace ITV; the jury is still out on that one. But at least they would get the opportunity.
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.