Campaign Report on Television: It sounds great but will Web TV ever take off? - Will the TV, with its vast household penetration, surpass the PC as the medium for the Internet?

By GORDON MACMILLAN, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 07 November 1997 12:00AM

The PC was set to be the technology of the future and the centre of the home entertainment world, according to the hype. The PC was to converge with TV, the Web, e-mail and computer games. However, this vision has failed to live up to expectations.

The PC was set to be the technology of the future and the centre of

the home entertainment world, according to the hype. The PC was to

converge with TV, the Web, e-mail and computer games. However, this

vision has failed to live up to expectations.



The home PC is likely to remain the preserve of the few. In the UK, 20

per cent of the population own a PC. This is likely to rise to 30 per

cent over the next couple of years.



The future of communications technology is concerned with convergence,

especially the marriage between the Internet and TV. Web TV, unlike the

PC, has every chance of having a widespread effect on popular culture in

the future.



Web TV means that the Internet is available on your TV via a set-top

box. You can download images and indulge in a spot of home shopping

using a remote control. Web TV equipment, which consists of a modem,

processor and enough RAM to run the built-in Web browser, costs about

pounds 300. Some boxes can send e-mail, but you need copious amounts of

patience to persevere with the remote control and the on-screen

keyboard.



A new book, European Broadcast Media - the Campaign Report on the Future

of Broadcast Media in Europe, suggests the commercial success of

interactive services depends on achieving a high level of consumer

access and uptake of the new services. Television, with a much greater

household penetration than the PC, is seen as the ideal medium for the

new services in terms of consumer uptake.



The book states: ’The inclusion of Internet access in interactive TV

packages further secures the television as the main reception

platform.



When Internet broadcasting was synonymous with PC broadcasting, it was

possible to point to all the advantages of broadcasting on the Net as

factors working in favour of the PC: the audience access it gives to

content providers who would otherwise lack the means to produce

traditional TV programming as well as specialist coverage. However, if

Internet access is available via the TV, these attributes are no longer

PC-specific.’



There are two companies active in the market - NetChannel and the

Microsoft-owned WebTV.



Both are US companies, although NetChannel is working with NetProducts

in the UK, an Acorn Computer subsidiary that is building set-top boxes

NetProducts launched its NetStation set-top box in July, with a poster

campaign through Walsh Trott Chick Smith. So far, sales are in the

thousands - but only just. Microsoft has no plans to launch WebTV in

Europe in the near future.



In the US, the Microsoft-owned WebTV, yet to launch in the UK, has sold

around 150,000 boxes. WebTV and NetChannel, which is backed by Oracle,

are signing deals with media companies to produce content for their

services. These companies offer two options - their hardware provides

both Web and e-mail access, but the real benefit will be enhanced TV, a

fusion of Web information and TV programmes.



Patrick Bonnaure, business development manager at WebTV, says: ’Our

intention is not to turn the hardware into a computer. What we have is a

box that will make the TV look better. We don’t believe that the PC has

a place in the living room. Our objective is for a mass audience. One

that does not want to word process or do spreadsheets in the living

room.’



One of the problems with the Internet is that its appeal is limited in

terms of what it can offer and the audience it appeals to. The medium

works most effectively as a text-based news and information service for

an ABC1 audience.



Ross Sleight, director of strategy at BMP Interaction, believes Web TV

will enhance the Internet’s use to consumers. ’I think the mass market

will use it differently to how it is used today. People are not going to

switch on their TV and browse. They will switch on their TV and turn to

the Web as they want to know more about what they are watching.’



Web TV is chiefly concerned with providing the audience with added

information. In the US, both NetChannel and WebTV have announced plans

to offer an interactive TV guide. Browse through the TV guide on your

television screen, click on the programme link and it will take you to

the channel. Companies such as CBS are modifying their Web coverage to

work with WebTV to deliver services such as sports scores and player

information that can be accessed while the game is in process.



Home shopping is attracting considerable attention from Web TV

pundits.



’We are looking at putting together a device that is Mondex compatible,

where you can charge your card with e-cash, which can then be used to

buy something on-screen immediately,’ Mike Robinson, sales and marketing

director of NetProducts, says.



For advertisers, Web TV will allow a commercial to carry a Web address,

which, when clicked on, takes the viewer straight through to additional

information on the Web. A further click will send an e-mail requesting a

brochure or product information.



Joe Poletto, vice-president of advertising sales at WebTV, says: ’Ads

with crossover links introduce the next generation of direct response TV

ads. These ads enhance broadcast commercials to include product

information, promotions, retail locations and calls to action to which

consumers can easily and instantly respond.’



However, one of the biggest problems with Web TV is how it will work

with digital TV. WebTV is in talks with Carlton Communications about

incorporating Web TV technology into digital TV. Carlton’s BDB is just

one of the players.



Some analysts predict that like mobile phones today, set-top box

technology, will, at some stage, be almost given away - incurred as part

of the subscription costs. And that digital TV will embrace the enhanced

future that Web TV offers.



European Broadcast Media - the Campaign Report on the Future of

Broadcast Media in Europe is available through Adrian Wistreich at

Market Tracking International tel +44 (0)171-263 1365, fax +44

(0)171-272 8525.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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