Defining Interactive Television

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

How do I define interactive television? Well, here's a definition I'd love to get some feedback on. I think it needs work:

Interactive television (iTV) is not one service. It represents a continuum of services from very limited interactivity (such as using a remote for TV power, volume and channel control) to more moderate interactivity (such as using an electronic program guide to search for programs), to more sophisticated levels of control recently made available by personal video recorders. An irreversible trend has become quite clear in the last few years: the control of television programs is moving away from the program provider and into the hands of the viewer. Two-way interactive television is yet another example of iTV, but it implies more complexity and modifications in viewer behaviors than do other iTV services.
I define interactive television to be hardware and accompanying software that incrementally increases the audience member's ability to control their viewing experience through content selectivity and/or use of real-time feedback channel(s) to the program (or other) origination site.

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.

The Inevitability of Web Advertising

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I will never forget seeing a beautiful, color image of a flower on a computer monitor for the first time in 1994. It was stunning, and it came from the Internet. Those with long teeth will readily remember that the Internet was the "public broadcasting [circa 1968]" of computer networks; i.e., it was militantly noncommercial.

When the World-Wide Web, came along, it, too, began with noncommercial content for the most part, and the Internet pubas decried any efforts to bring commercial content to this quintessentially non-commercial, research-oriented phenomenon.

I see technology as a tool that is neither inherently good or evil. It is how we choose to use technology where value labels may be debated. So it didn't matter what I personally thought about the new Web and the possibility that it would be commercialized. Instead, I thought of the history of new media in the United States. Radio, for example, began as a commercial free medium, and there were many detractors from the notion of radio carrying advertising. Yet the history of new media in the United States is content subsidized by advertising. We've been comfortable with this arrangement for generations: "free" content in return for the possibility that we might see commercial messages and respond to some of them.

Therefore, I said with confidence to my students in 1994 that the commercialization of the Web was inevitable in the United States. Was I a genius, was I able to see the future, or what would explain this confidence? The simple answer is knowledge of history. Someone would have to pay the piper for web content, and we had a model that had existed for 200 years of American history: advertising.

"Logging in" to Television Stations

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When I began my career as a professor, I remember trying to excite my students about the future of electronic media. I told an introduction to telecommunications class (large lecture hall) that one day in the future, television viewers would be able to "log in" to a television station to see its broadcast I gave the example of the Cleveland Indians playing in Seattle against the Mariners, and that how they would "log in" to, for example, KING-TV to see the game. This was around 1986, and I also seem to recall students' eyes glazing over ("Do we have to know this for for the test?").

I also remember telling that class about the coming digitization of electronic communication. If they understood that any media content can be digitizel, that meant it could be taken anywhere, and perfect copies could be made (unlike the technology of the hour, VCRs). Images, audio, video, it didn't matter. All media content (photos, radio, television, film) could be digitized and duplicated ad infinitum. This smelled like a revolution.

How Did I Know?

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I suppose just about everyone is interested in the future. After all, it's where we will spend the rest of our lives, not to mention our childrens'. I have been fascinated by technology and future depictions of technology (was it Popular Mechanics or Popular Science that had the cover story of personal helicopters and another on automobiles that should have been driving themselves on the road?).

Although I cannot reduce it (sorry, Doug), I have had good luck in predicting the future of emerging communication technologies (especially popular applications) since I was an undergraduate student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Here are some example predictions I made in 1978-1979:

1. The possibility of 100 or more television channels on a cable service had been discussed for years. Many skeptics scoffed at the notion, noting there would have to be a telephone book-sized TV guide, and no one could know what would be on when or on what channel. My prediction was that radio already showed us what happened when the medium was carved out into smaller audiences with network radio in decline. The result? Format radio (country, album-oriented rock (in many forms), talk, news, jazz, classical, etc. What could we learn from radio? Simple. People tuned to a station any time of day and they had a notion of what would would be on the air based on the station's format.

What did this mean for the multichannel television universe? I argued that it meant "format television." Viewers could tune to a channel and know what format (or genre) of prgramming would be on the air. I suggested channels devoted to rock concerts, sitcoms, news, sports, weather (Qube in Columbus had one channel devoted to one thing: weather radar), and even Westerns (hey, Reagan was president and Westerns had been lost in the shuffle; however, the Western channel came ouf only recently). In addition, I thought of the production costs of sporting events such as golf tournaments. Networks usually braodcast the final rounds on Saturday and Sunday, but igrnored the first rounds played on Thursdays and Fridays. In a multichannel universe, I didn't see any reason why the first rounds could be broadcast.

Hence, I envisioned a future that included something like CBS 1, CBS 2 and CBS 3, where CBS 1 might be the entertainment progeamming we were used to, CBS 2 could be CBS sports, and CBS 3 could be news (CBS radio might even help here). Format network television. Check Disney, ABC, and ESPN for an example that comes close to ABC 1, ABC 2, and ABC 3.


Television's Revolution

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

8 May 2005

My name is Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein, professor of telecommunications at the University of Georgia. I am writing a book on interactive television for Lawrence Erlbaum associates, and I will use this site to share ideas with anyone who cares to contribute (as well as my own place to save great sources of information on interactive television).

Sorry you missed my beautiful post, but I just learned that blogger deletes the post if you Preview and then try to go back to edit. Ouch! Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. (No, "Recover Post" did not work).

Coming soon: my credentials as a new media forecaster.