Interactive TV Gets a Big Boost

Feb 13, 2006  •  Post A Comment

CNN is slated to launch today its first major one-screen interactive TV application that runs along with its regular CNN linear cable channel to 11 million EchoStar customers outfitted with ITV-capable set-top boxes.

That’s a big distribution boost for one-screen ITV, the emerging direction in which interactive enhancements to TV programming are headed.

One-screen ITV, in which viewers can interact with TV content using the remote control rather than a computer, can help keep a viewer tuned to a linear network. The growth has been limited to date since few service providers have installed the advanced set-top boxes necessary for ITV, but that’s starting to change. EchoStar, for one, has deployed OpenTV’s middleware widely, making any ITV enhancements available to more than 90 percent of EchoStar’s 12 million customers.

CNN Enhanced TV, the ITV application, is a combination of CNN’s linear network with content and stories from CNN.com, modified for TV. Viewers can access the new service from the Dish Home channel on EchoStar’s service, the satellite provider’s home page for ITV applications. Once there, users click a button for CNN Enhanced TV, which takes them to a melded channel with CNN’s linear feed scaled down to 25 percent of the screen and content from CNN.com occupying the remaining L-shaped portion of the screen.

Viewers can then choose stories from six categories, with five stories in each category, said Kevin Cohen, senior VP of strategic planning for Turner Broadcasting Systems. The stories are refreshed in regular time as CNN.com is updated. Viewers can call up additional information on the story they are watching or look up stories on other topics while still staying tuned to the linear channel.

Within three months, EchoStar plans to add an additional, more powerful entry point for this interactivity by letting viewers access the interactive content while tuned to the linear channel of CNN. That will make it easier for more viewers to check out the interactive content since they won’t have to jump to the ITV home portal to access it.

“The ideal interactive experience is one that actually enhances the viewing of the linear network, so you aren’t tuning away from the linear network and are increasing time spent viewing it,” Mr. Cohen said. CNN is marketing the enhanced service to other affiliates too, he said.

CNN Enhanced TV will be free to consumers. The return on investment for CNN lies in the possibility of increasing tune-in. For EchoStar, the offering is a competitive differentiator, said Scott Higgins, director of interactive programming for EchoStar.

EchoStar is well positioned to fire up ITV applications because of its wide ITV footprint, said Ian Olgeirson, analyst with Kagan Research. “Certainly, being able to deploy the application to more than a small amount of customers is pretty critical to making the model work on any level,” he said. Still, ITV is not likely to lure new customers, he said.

But to crack the economic model for ITV, programmers and operators must test to learn which kinds of content, functionality and navigation consumers want, said Coleman Breland executive VP of sales and marketing for Turner Network Sales.