Jun 16, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Can you imagine trying to use the Internet without a search engine? It would be more frustrating than trying to write closed-captioning for Ozzie Osborne. With billions of Web pages, search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Overture have become constant companions for the frequent surfer.
But television is easy, right? You just turn it on and tune in your favorite show. But things are changing. Television doesn’t have billions of channels. Not yet anyway. But with digital television, you now have hundreds of choices, including pay-per-view, video-on-demand and, coming soon, interactive channels. Gandhi once said there’s more to life than increasing its speed. But the peace activist never tried to find out when episode 23 of “Star Trek” was playing in syndication on a 400-channel digital cable system. Now that would have been worthy of a Nobel Prize.
An Interactive Program Guide (IPG) from companies such as Gemstar and Microsoft will help you navigate the jungle of choices. Unlike a printed guide, the on-screen version enables you to quickly scroll through hundreds of channels with a few clicks of the remote. Plus, if you have a digital video recorder such as TiVo, you can record a show by clicking on the IPG’s programming grid.
However, I predict that the IPG’s search engine may soon become as indispensable to the TV viewer as the Internet search engine is to the PC user.
Bada Bing!
For instance, let’s say you’re a big fan of “The Sopranos.” Until recently, you would simply scan HBO’s program listings, or you might recall that it airs at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday. However, HBO is now offering “The Sopranos” and other original programming on subscription video-on-demand. (With SVOD, you can order single episodes or an entire season for a fee.) By doing a search for “The Sopranos,” you may discover that 25 different episodes are playing. Plus-bada bing!-your search might also report that E! Entertainment is running a documentary on the show tomorrow night. The IPG search engine would add both convenience and entertainment to your life.
passive viewers
And that’s only the beginning. In a few years, when cable and satellite operators add high-speed Internet services to TV set-tops, viewers will use the search engine to find related programming information on the Net. For instance, after watching a documentary on the battle of Gettysburg, you might want to immediately search for a Web site on Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant. Or you might want to find a review of an upcoming movie.
Of course, some might say that passive viewers will never interact with their televisions. And there’s some truth to that. Without doubt, the average person’s IQ drops about 10 points after he turns on the TV. If it’s interactive, it better be simple.
However, the IPG search engine is easy to use. And, with the explosion of new programming choices, the American couch potato may have no choice but to use it.
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions .com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.