The Next Big Thing: Interactive Television

Back in the late '90s, well before the infamous "dot bomb" implosion, interactive TV was the rage at almost every television-related industry show. A phalanx of technology mavericks leading recently launched companies (ripe with venture capital dollars), descended upon the MSOs and DBS companies with brash new ITV plans, new "lean forward" services, and the great promise of wealth-building potential.

The promise of literally connecting with subscribers interactively was the appeal, with direct sales and ROI as the payoff. Unfortunately the dot bomb did go off, and many of those companies are now only a distant memory, at best. Today, the survivors are few, but there are a number of new and interesting players positioning for a new era, with improved vision, better intelligence and understanding of the TV industry, not just technology.

The infrastructure and the pipes required for effective transport are for the most part in place today. The MSOs and DBS players have embraced VOD as a major agenda item and are still working to make it successful. DVR has become standard for DBS companies, and increasingly for the MSOs as well. Not surprisingly, the DBS players are leading a new move to interactivity with channel 100 and 101 for Echostar and DirecTV respectively. Kind of an interesting development since they don't really have the return path normally associated with interactivity. And the early returns demonstrate that there are interested users out there, who sample the early interactive channel launches more often than you might think. Is this the next big thing?

Mobile media and portable media usage will no doubt become commonplace for many users within the next several years. But ITV builds largely off the home-viewing environment as an extension of the tremendously successful media engagement called "watching TV."

As design convergence continues and as technology boundaries fall, interacting with the TV becomes an elegantly simple and natural phenomenon. For every person who asks "Why?" you should ask "Why not?" Your TV is right in front of you, beckoning to be more than simply a display device. Why not ITV? People will shop on a PC (Amazon and eBay), so why not interact/shop/browse/surf/investigate with your TV set and remote control?

If our youth tell us anything (through their often bizarre behavior) it is that the definition of entertainment itself is changing. Our youth require interactivity in today's world--via cell phones, texting, instant messaging, MySpace, etc., all of which are part of expanding social networks.

Interaction is now a part of every media player's business plan in one form of another. And so ITV is relaunching at a time where the infrastructure is ready and in a climate where the appetite is ready. Sounds like something to keep an eye on!

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