INTERACTIVE: BEHIND THE HYPE/CAN CAFE CYBERIA MAKE IT AS AN INTERNET CHANNEL?; Channel Cyberia prepares its own brand of TV for the Net

Advertisers have yet to be convinced that a TV station broadcast on the Net will succeed, Lisa Hughes says

Advertisers have yet to be convinced that a TV station broadcast on the Net will succeed, Lisa Hughes says



A new TV channel launches on Wednesday 22 May. It’s got programmes,

commercials, even a weatherman, but Channel Cyberia is broadcasting over

the Internet, not the ether. You can tune in at

http://channel.cyberiacafe.net/.



Just like a TV station, it’s commissioning independents to produce

content. ITN has signed up to supply world news; PA Sport is providing a

results service; financial data comes from MAID, the electronic database

company; Paul Gambaccini will present a film review slot and Steve

McFadden (Phil from EastEnders) is fronting a motoring magazine.



The channel controller, Keith Teare, founder and technical director of

the cyber cafe chain, Cyberia, and the Internet access provider,

Easynet, explains: ‘We’re trying to take the best ideas from TV and

transfer them to a new medium, but adding all the things this new medium

offers.’ In other words, interactivity.



Each programme will have an associated bulletin board for messages and a

chat room where viewers with related interests can ‘talk’. Video and

audio will only be made available when the technology works properly.



It’s a bold venture and something new for the Internet. Teare, committed

to not charging viewers, says: ‘Advertising is key to the whole channel.

There’s no other source of revenue, although what constitutes an ad can

be defined very broadly.’



There are three spaces available every hour. Viewers click in one of the

small frames to play an ‘in-site ad’, consisting of one or several

screens, in the main frame. ‘It’s a tiny amount of space,’ Teare admits.

‘But I think you can do things with it, especially if you take all three

slots and use them together.’



He argues that this approach means advertisers won’t have to create and

maintain expensive Web sites. In-site ads, which are delivered direct

from the Channel Cyberia server, are cheap to produce and can mirror

campaigns in other media. Each hourly slot costs pounds 1,000, although

Teare is keen to stress that rates are negotiable. Programme-makers get

a 30 per cent cut of revenue generated during their spot in the schedule

and Teare predicts that within three months, revenue will be running at

pounds 50,000 a month, rising to pounds 2 million a month by the end of

1997. However, he admits that during the six-week preview period the

channel has taken only 10 per cent of what was projected.



Nearly every major agency in London has sent people to Cyberia for a

presentation, Teare claims, and the response has been ‘enthusiastic’.



In fact, reaction seems to have been somewhat more ambivalent. One of

the more positive responses comes from Charlie Dobres, the new-media

client services director at Lowe Howard-Spink, who sees the channel’s

online archive as the innovation that will work best.



By accessing the archive, viewers can choose what they want to watch and

when they want to watch it. They’re notified by e-mail when a programme

they’ve requested is ready to be viewed. To watch it, they simply click

on an embedded link in the e-mail.



Dobres adds: ‘We are looking at advertising on Channel Cyberia, but my

deepest reservation is that you can’t actually have a hotlink.

Basically, you can only have an ad, and that’s a very big minus.’



Phil Swain, an account director at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper’s new-media

arm, Star Interactive, agrees. Even if an in-site ad is cheap to make

and show, he believes ‘the medium is capable of so much that it’s a

shame to restrict it to a press or poster ad’.



Rob Norman, the managing director of CIA Interactive, is also sceptical:

‘I think it’ll struggle with its rates and it’ll probably start off by

taking a little off a lot of people. As advertisers grow more suspicious

of how effective commercial breaks are, we’ll be looking for ways of

somehow fusing the advertising to the editorial content. A hybrid of the

current model of broadcast sponsorship with the magazine model of

advertorial in an online environment seems to me like a pretty cool way

of approaching that problem.’



Teare is amenable to this concept and is hoping to attract programme

sponsorship. Predictably upbeat, he says that in a year or so ‘Cyberia

will be a media company rather than a cafe chain and Channel Cyberia

will have content that is equal to the best in the world’.



A day in the life of Channel Cyberia



Midnight Financial news

1am World news from ITN

2am Calling Planet Earth - the weather

3am Site of the Day - Internet charts

4am Sport - US sport

5am CyberCinema - Paul Gambaccini’s movie reviews

6am Science 2000 - accessible science

7am Fashion Grab - style guide

8am Site of the Day - Internet charts

9.30am Financial news

10.30am Lap it Up - off-the-wall opinions

11.30am Have your Say - discussion programme

Midday Sport - with an emphasis on participation

1pm World news from ITN

2pm Financial news

3pm Site of the Day - Internet charts

4pm Get a Life - eclectic magazine

5pm Have your Say - discussion programme

6.10pm World news from ITN

7pm Sport -UK and Europe

8pm Calling Planet Earth - the weather

9pm Evolver - body matters

10pm First Byte - a look behind the technology

11pm Sport - world summary



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