Interactive Television: Are We There Yet?
(continued from page 1)

Interactive Advertising
Interactive television has also made its way into the world of advertising. In 1997, ITE produced the world's first interactive commercial which premiered on Denmark's TV2. First, the station showed a 15-second trailer promoting the commercial for Tuborg beer. The actual commercial involved a live interactive game where the winner would receive a year's supply of beer. Against the clock, one lucky player had to drive an animated Tuborg truck through a maze, collecting cases of beer on the way. Viewers actually waited by their televisions in anticipation of the commercial.

Joe Razz' Real Time Presenters, Skull 'Ed and Wingnut. Courtesy of Total Control Media.

Going Digital
It's almost hard to believe that technology currently used in countries including Croatia, Russia, and Israel hasn't quite taken off in the United States. The field experts seem to believe that things will change as television and the Internet become more and more integrated. Peter Golden, Total Control Media's Technical Director, says that US broadcasters are interested in the technology, but claim that it's too early for the US market. Golden believes that things will change with the conversion to digital television. "I think that when digital television really settles down, there will be a huge capacity for interactive. There will be more interest because people will just expect more," he explains. Golden also feels there is a perception that the technology seems complicated in relation to analog television. "When you put it in relation to digital," Golden says, "It all makes sense."

Digital television is growing internationally. Several US broadcast network affiliates have already gone digital and the FCC is slowly enforcing a complete conversion. In theory, analog television will be gone by the year 2006. For those who currently own digital systems, interactivity is slowly becoming available via special set-top boxes. The units, which are being test-marketed in select cities, enable viewers to buy products, do their banking, vote, and of course, play games. When a viewer wants to access a game, he simply dials up the cable company's server using the box.

Tracy Swedlow, President of InteractiveTV Today, an e-mail newsletter, believes that set-top boxes will increase the popularity of interactive games. "Cable systems interested in offering interactive television...will certainly be interested in offering interactive gaming, which may include animated environments," she comments. Swedlow expects that viewers will prefer the set-top box over phone-in games because it eliminates the problem of tying up the phone line.

Looking Ahead
Amy Meyers, Vice President of Business Development for ITE-USA, agrees that people in the States are drawn to newer technology. "Most producers and broadcasters know that they want to have an agenda for interactivity, but they don't really have one yet. Whatever they introduce, they want it to be `the new thing.' So, typically, they're looking for something that hasn't been created yet," Meyers continues, "Nobody knows where [interactive television] is going to go, and as a result, they don't look at what's out there now."

According to Ivan Solvason, CEO and founder of ITE, the "new thing" in interactive television in the US will, in fact, be the full convergence of television and the Internet. WebChoice, Inc., a division of ITE has created WebChoice, a technology that links computers with television and is an alternative to WebTV. With WebChoice, both the computer and television screens are used, as opposed to sharing the TV screen for both web and TV content. Using free downloadable software and an audio cable, WebChoice enables the computer to detect special audio signals from the television that will automatically link the viewer to websites connected to the television content. CBS/Eyemark show WildWebTV is the first entertainment and pop culture television show that integrates the Internet and the television with the use of WebChoice. This syndicated show airs in 141 markets all over the US, usually in overnight or early morning timeslots and has a huge following in the US, Australia and Singapore.

Solvason says that the next generation of interactive television games will include expansion into the Internet arena. His companies are developing a way for the AMS system to be connected to the Internet so that they can run animated shows on the web; some in conjunction with television shows.

Clearly, interactive television is the wave of the future, but the US wants to wait for the TV and computer to merge to be a part of it. In the meantime, we have Throut & Neck. The monsters bicker as they compete in Sheep Slam, a game similar to handball, except the sheep serve as the ball. Throut cheers his player on, while Neck, who is getting creamed, taunts his own player: "Sam, try a different phone!" Pretty soon, "Sam, try a faster modem!" will be more like it.

Sharon Schatz works in the programming department at Fox Family Channel and is also a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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