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