The Inevitability of Interactive Television (iTV)

You may use this content, but please cite (c) 2005, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein.

Now I have been telling my students about the inevitability of interactive television. Some see this as a controversial statement, and I readily acknowledge that my own colleagues at the University of Georgia have been unconvinced, to say the least. I like to live on the next wave, and I believe interactive television is it.

For the record, when I say interactive television, some people might first think of two-way video conferencing. I agree that this is a rich example of interactive teelvision, and one that has been largely ignored (which is a shame, I think). This is not what I mean by interactive television, although I do believe that interactive video will continue to creep into our lives.

Why is interactive television inevitable? I have two examples that represent the coming of iTV. First, it has been demonstrated and is in use in many other countries around the world. Ironically, the free market system in the U.S. often means we are slow to embrace new technologies. Why? Because they can be expensive, because there is so much emphasis on "return on investments," because the current system of television seems to be serving us well enough. This isn't a bad approach. France is now regretting its top-down decision to create the Minitel computer network with its limited display devices. We ignored the Japanese analog HDTV systems that were demonstrated 15 years ago; because we did wait, we will transition into digital television and we don't know what we may have missed up to this point.

One of the most "successful" applications of iTV in Britain is SkyTV's gambling service. I am not an expert on gambling and I'm not sure if I ever bought a lottery ticket in the U.S. I have no reason to think (outside of arbitrary regulations) that gambling will be anything other than a very "successful" application of iTV in the U.S. Oh, did I forget to mention Rupert Murdoch also owns DirecTV and DirecTV has already announced it will offer iTV gambling this summer (2005)?

Perhaps more overwhelming is the pressure that will come from direct marketers on television or direct response TV (DRTV). Yes, how many "just $19.95 plus shipping and handling, call 1-800-555-1234..." commercials have aired in the last 10 years (and more). If I see a CD, for example, advertised on TV. Here's what might happen:

1. I see the ad and want to take a chance on the product.
2. I fumble around for a pen and paper (unless I have TiVo)
3. I jot down the number.
4. I mute or turn off the TV and go to the phone.
5. I call the 800 number, make a mistake, and call again.
6. They are happy to receive my call, which is very important to them, and I get to hold for the next available representative.
7. I have to explain what the product is and where I saw it advertised.
8. I then have to offer lots of personal information including my phone number, name, credit card number, expiration date, verification number, address, etc.
9. The operator messes up and we have to repeat the information.
10. I'm thanked for the order and hang up.

How long did that take? With interactive television, I will see the ad, pick up my remote, order the product, confirm which credit card I'm using (all this info can be stored if I choose), click order and return to my TV program. The worst case example might be the time it would take to self-check one item at a grocery store.

Personally, I have little interest in promoting direct response television clutter via iTV. Just as I knew that the web would emerge in the U.S. as an advertiser supported medium, I know that interactive television is unstoppable. Oh, did I forget to mention how many shopping channels there are on cable and satellite television today? Can you believe they still expect us to respond via the tedius telephone method noted above? How Neanderthal!

Happily, I know that the applications developed for DRTV will offer the means to develop other applications as well. That's where I get excited.


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