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TV 2.0

Posted on July 30, 2002 and read 17,062 times

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The most interesting and enjoyable activity of the Media Experts iTV Lab is the global search for innovative interactive Television programming in all its forms. This fascinating and frequently eye-opening quest often leads us to the U.K. and, in particular, the BBC’s ground breaking offerings on the BSkyB platform.

We recently posted at www.itvlab.tv, two recent sports applications that we found to be revolutionary examples of interactive Television.

What earns them this moniker is their ability to provide the viewser (viewer/user) with unprecedented levels of personalization of, and control over, their Television viewing experience. These clips demonstrate the current evolution from the “information management” trend of the nineties to the emerging trend of “entertainment management”. Just as importantly, the broadcasts garnered historic ratings for the BBC while underlining how comfortable the viewing public is interacting with compelling television programming.

These applications also withstand the scrutiny of the iTV Lab litmus test. Firstly, that iTV is not about the Internet on TV. It is about leveraging the emotional power of TV.

Secondly, they pass the “Carruthers Corollary”; (coined by us to honour Canada’s own iTV pioneer Jim Carruthers of Norpak Limited), which states, “It’s not interactive Television unless you can do it with a beer in one hand, and a remote control in the other.”

Early last year the BBC had the inspired vision to offer its sports-mad audience an enhanced broadcast of the 130th British Open Golf Tournament. The interactive application, a joint development of BBC Sports and BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch’s innovative DTH satellite service, offered viewers the opportunity to navigate the national broadcaster’s live coverage at will, selecting from among five simultaneous live feeds spanning the eighteen greens of St. Anne’s Golf Club.

The digital signal also carried an abundance of attendant data in the vertical blanking interval (VBI), including tournament updates and player statistics, as well as a channel dedicated to the tournament’s highlights.

Viewsers wishing to instantly check the leader board or track Jasper Parnevik’s personal progress could do so instantly with a simple push of their thumb. The result was a customized “director’s cut” of The British Open; a truly personalized television event viewed by millions, with no two golf fans watching the exact same broadcast in exactly the same way.

This innovative application heralds the arrival of TV 2.0: the morphing of TV to an EC, or Entertainment Computer. If the previous decade was about managing information content on your PC, the next decade will be all about managing your entertainment content, both video and music, on your EC.

The Sky Sports application was also applied to the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon 2001, the jewel in the crown of the Grand Slam Tennis Series. As anyone who has attended a major tennis tournament has discovered, there is plenty of exciting action beyond Center Court. The BBC/BSkyB application allowed viewsers to adopt the role of director, flitting from court to court, switching camera views, calling up attendant player data delivered in the VBI, and selecting multi-or full-screen views at will, all easily manipulated with a few commands on their remote control.

Decisions previously reserved for directors of major sporting events were placed quite literally in the hands of the satellite subscriber, resulting in a dramatically enhanced and personalized television experience.

The 1.9 million BSkyB subscribers who navigated Wimbledon 2001 via their remote controls were obviously impressed with the customizable experience. BBC’s 2001 coverage of Wimbledon garnered the highest Television ratings in its venerable history.This personalized attribute of the platform is a central unique selling proposition of Sky’s sports service in its promotional campaign aimed at a subscriber base whose passion for football, cricket and tennis, borders on the fanatical.

The direction of home entertainment is clear: it’s all about management of one’s digital entertainment on a familiar and friendly Entertainment Computer: Your Television. It’s TV 2.0!

For several seasons now, football fanatics in the U.K. have been enjoying similar custom viewing options on Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB interactive football platform. For fans of Britain’s Premier Leagues, features such as multiple camera angles, match and league highlights and statistics, trivia and even an application where football fans can contribute personal commentary to the match, are a regular part of watching football on interactive U.K. Television.

According to a study published by Continental research in September of last year, 2.7 million viewsers had interacted with the ridiculously popular reality show Big Brother. At the end of the program’s eight-week run, over 5 million votes had been cast by UK viewsers via their TV remote controls.

DRTV practitioners might want to pause and reflect upon the preceding paragraph as it does great things portend for the potential of enhanced interactive advertising and T- Commerce in North America. What is remarkable about these numbers is the very high percentage of digital households in the U.K. who regularly interact with programming, and how quickly this behaviour gained traction. It is equally remarkable how compelling this programming is when we reflect that iTV is usually thought of as taking place in a two-way environment. The BBC/BSkyB sports applications were accomplished in a one–way satellite environment.

In the iTV Lab at Media Experts it is our firmly held belief, after carefully observing the traction iTV has enjoyed in the U.K. and elsewhere, that before we can get the consumer interacting to any great degree in a commercial nature, we must first see them interacting regularly with programming content. It is imperative that broadcasters and MSO’s create compelling content and services that will engage and involve the viewser in the iTV entertainment experience.

In our Canadian reality, imagine the possibilities that revolutionary interactive and personalized viewing options would bring to Hockey Night in Canada! Had enough of Don Cherry? Go interactive and check out what hockey fans have on their mind. Change camera angles and watch the replays you want to watch when you want to watch them, isolate players, get instant game and player stats, order your team’s sweater, vote on the All Star Team or track the progress of three live games at once. And all of it with simple navigation of your remote control.

And what impact might these interactive viewing experiences then have on the ratings of these enhanced programs? What opportunities might they create for advertisers in transforming the 30-second brand conversation into a season–long, two-way dialogue?

But that bright future depends on iTV developing in Canada along lines that respect its natural evolution from a linear or “push” medium to one that is “managed” along with a host of other digital entertainment, by your EC.

The PC will not occupy the center of the home media experience. Rather, one powerful appliance with a massive hard drive capable of managing all your digital entertainment from video and audio, to broadband, digital photos and DVD-enhanced broadcast video, will reside at the center of the home media experience. It is clear that this view is widely held, and most firmly, at the center of the business models of numerous MSO’s, manufacturers, and independent developers who recently proffered for consumers at CES 2002, a wide array of Home Media Servers designed to do just that.

While it is clear that TV is evolving to version 2.0, the question as yet unanswered is, will the Canadian model evolve along with it?


Ian MacLean is Vice-President of the iTV Lab of Media Experts






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