Definitions of Interactive Television

Defining interactive media is not straight-forward. The literature in the field of education has, perhaps, the longest history of defining interactive media because the good ol' A/V folks were quick to jump on computers and interactive videodiscs, to name just two, when they first came ouf. Suffice it to say, all communication media have the potential to be employed for educational purposes and that certainly is and will be the case with interactive television. But first, how do we define interactivity.

Interactivity is not binary, but is instead a continuum from limited interactivity to full emersion (e.g., holography in the future not unlike the Holodeck on Star Trek: Next Generation (this is a given, the only question is how long it will take for this form of interactive "television" to move from defense department contracts to the general public; think of airline simulators for military pilots followed by simulators for civilian pilot training).

Interactivity can also be depicted graphically. The following depiction comes froma book authored by the late Ev Rogers (1986).

Georgia Tech MA graduate student Karyn Y. Lu (2005) says:

Interactive television (iTV), or enhanced television (eTV), is any television or video programming that incorporates enhanced content or some style of user interactivity, for example, providing synchronized trivia content during a broadcast, allowing viewers to vote on the outcome of a show, or digitally recording video onto a hard drive so viewers can time-shift while watching a program. ITV is also used as an umbrella term to cover the convergence of television with digital media technologies such as computers, personal video recorders, game consoles, and mobile and wireless devices, enabling user interactivity.

Lu continues with this graphical representation of traditional (linear) television versus interactive television:

Source: http://idt.gatech.edu/ms_projects/klu/lu_karyn_y_200505_mast.pdf accessed 21 November 2006.

The business college at the University of Greece in Athens has a unit devoted to interactive television: http://uitv.info/ which also includes a definition for interactive television:

What is interactive TV?

The answer depends on who is asked: 1) An engineer would assume digital broadcast and return channel, 2) a content producer would refer to interactive graphics and dynamic editing, 3) a media professional would describe new content formats such as betting, interactive storytelling and play-along quiz games, and 4) a sociologistÕs definition would focus on the interaction between people about TV shows. While, none of the above definitions seems to agree with each other, all of them are right.

Interactive TV Systems

Interactive TV systems is a class of computer applications that runs on video and multimedia servers, advanced set-top boxes, home media computers, and mobile phones. Still, the term interactive TV has been a buzzword with as many supporters as opponents. One explanation is that interactivity has been used to describe a technological feature of the media as much as it has been used to characterize a way of using the media. For this reason, the above definition makes an explicit definition between the tehcnological and the social aspects of interactive TV systems.

Source: http://uitv.info/topics/what-is-interactive-tv/ accessed 21 November 2006.

Please send me the citations for other definitions of interactive television. All of us know where to find them: here (with your help).

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2006, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Find any typos? Don't smite me, let me know!

Klopfenstein's Evolving Defintion of Interactive Television

Click here to see the image to the right in a larger version.

You know, I actually put a lot of thought into this, but I know it can be improved. My working definition of interactive television takes into account that there are various levels of interactivity. I believe a good way to define interactivity is to take it from the perspective of the viewer who becomes a more active viewer. Here is my working definition that might change tomorrow (I posted it on this blog in December 2005:

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.

How does that compare to other definitions of iTV. I'm glad you asked. Let's find out. Interestingly, in searching 28 library databases, "interactive television definition" resulted in one lonely definition: "Video teleconferencing (Interactive television): A course broadcast between two or more remote locations, with live, animated image transmission and display. Faculty and students can interact with each other with no delay." Source: Ann Higgins Hains, Simone Conceição-Runlee, Patricia Caro & Mary Ann Marchel, "Collaborative Course Development in Early Childhood Special Education through Distance Learning," Early Childhood Research & Practice,
Vol. 1 No. 1: Spring 1999, np.

Although the results of that search were dramatically limited by my use of "interactive television definition" (meaning all three words had to appear in succession), even my academic peers had thought this is what I meant by interactive television (I think every professional association in the communication field now "gets it," that iTV is not a fad this time around).

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2006, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Find any typos? Don't smite me, let me know!

The Importance of Definitions

Does everyone know what I mean by interactive television? If you do, email me at klopfens@uga.edu. For those of you who missed out (so far) of the joys of graduate school (and for those of you who've already had 3rd grade science), definitions are needed to include and exclude entities. When does someone crossover the threshold between being a social drinker and an alcoholic? That threshold is a definition that is probably arbitrary. For more reading about definitions, you can go way bak to The Function of Definitions in Social Science
Richard Popkin, Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 40, No. 18 (Sep. 2, 1943), pp. 491-495.

Defining interactive television is an especially tricky thing to do. Does using a remote control to turn a TV on or off constitute "interactivity"? Some might say yes, but a definition that broad may not help in the on-going research about interactivity. Should some measure of the audience's involvement in a television program be included? It seems logical to suggest, for example, that an immersed audience member might be more prone to engage interactive functions of a television show. But this is subject to debate and (funded!) research.

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2006, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Find any typos? Don't smite me, let me know!

Klopfenstein Book Publisher Sold

[Editor's Note: I will be switching over to APA Style for my publisher, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (very recently sold to London-based publisher Informa. Interesting to note that Informa is the publisher of Lloyd's List and organizer of conferences including the a mobile phone industry get-together, has been approached by its rival Springer Science and Business Media about a takeover that would create a business worth more than £4bn. Source: Hans Kundnani and Richard Wray, Springer in talks with Informa on £4bn merger, MediaGuardian.co.uk accessed on 12 November 2006). As someone from outside the book publishing industry, I have no idea what this means, especially if they keep the LEA name. I guess if I do a bang-up job there may be more of a global audience for my book, but I still plan to focus on the shifting sands of the nascent U.S. interactive television industry.

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2006, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Find any typos? Don't smite me, let me know!