NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON INTERACTIVE TV - Is the beginning of the second interactive TV revolution nigh? Alasdair Reid investigates the interactive TV success C4 has had with Big Brother

Almost perversely, when you consider all the digital gloom and doom there's been, this summer has turned out to be a bumper one for interactive TV.

Take Big Brother on Channel 4. Not only have you been able to vote via your remote control, if you're watching on the cable or satellite digital platforms, but of infinitely more interest has been the opportunity to access round-the-clock coverage on E4's interactive zone - and choose between different camera feeds while you're about it.

And back in June there was the World Cup, which offered various options of particular interest to non-England supporters. Then, of course, there was the BBC coverage of Wimbledon, which provided all sorts of viewing choices and further information on digital back channels.

Granted, some of this activity is interactive lite, better known as enhanced TV. You can certainly interact in the sense of choosing from a range of options, but it doesn't offer any real dialogue with anyone or anything.

And although it uses cable or satellite platforms, use of the return path has been modest. It's a case of sifting through what they've dumped on your doorstep.

But it's a form of interactive nonetheless. And there's more good news where the third platform - digital terrestrial - is concerned. It's becoming apparent that on the revamped system, which will be run by the BBC, there's going to be extra bandwidth on which both ITV and Channel 4 can run interactive services.

In this instance we're very definitely going to be talking about enhanced, rather than interactive, TV, because the new DTT decoder boxes will have no return path capacity whatsoever. But commercial broadcasters are giving every indication that they intend to use every inch of bandwidth they can get their hands on.

Which has to be good news, surely? And it could save ITV's blushes in particular. Carlton Active has won an industry award for the enhanced TV version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, but since the collapse of ITV Digital its enhanced TV options have been severely limited because the network has been unable to agree on terms for extra bandwidth on the Sky Digital platform.

A Carlton Active spokeswoman said ITV was continuing to find ways of extending the scope of its enhanced TV offerings. However, negotiations with Sky are still believed to be absolutely deadlocked and the two broadcasters don't exactly have a history of amicable co-operation - after all, until recently, ITV wasn't available in any form at all on the Sky electronic programme guide.

However, the future looks brighter at Channel 4. Peter Good, the channel's head of interactive TV, has no such problems with Sky, and he's now looking forward to making the most of the DTT platform too.

"We were the first to do synchronised stuff with Banzai on the ITV Digital DTT platform and we're certainly looking at what we can do now," Good reveals.

And Channel 4 arguably has a far more sophisticated strategy than ITV.

It not only has synchronised content - material pertaining to the show as it goes out in the main broadcast stream - but has been supporting its programme properties with more permanent content.

But isn't the new DTT system unexciting, in that it offers no return path? Good agrees that aspect is certainly disappointing, but believes it is still an exciting prospect.

"The technology is generally more unstable - you have to work harder to get functionality. In terms of the return path issue there are ways of getting people to respond, for instance, to a quiz, using the phone. It will be interesting to see just what can be done to commercialise it. But we always get excited about more capacity - it's great."

Should the advertising community put DTT back on the agenda then? Well, perhaps. Daniele Fiandaca, the chief operating officer of Profero, is slightly sceptical.

"You've got to use your common sense. Some of the stuff we've seen on the BBC has been great for viewers, though you could ask if it's been a wise use of licence fee payers' money. But at some stage commercial channels will have to get more fully involved and they will have to make money from it. That's when it will be interesting to see what happens," he says.

Paul Longhurst, a consultant at The Allmond Partnership, agrees: "They're all starting to bang the drum again about what the terrestrial platform will be able to deliver - and you'd expect that because it is clearly back on the agenda. But should we be sceptical? Yes, is the short answer.

There's nothing new here. All these people are saying is that we could potentially be back to where we were two months ago. And of course there are the same problems. Even if ITV can have an enhanced version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, its applications will be fairly limited."

Longhurst also points out that no-one really knows if there will be a significant take up of the new DTT boxes. It may, in the end, turn out to be irrelevant. "The BBC is really giving it a go and you have to admire that. But DTT is still unproven. Meanwhile, there are six million subscribers on Sky, and this is growing, and the Sky system can do a lot more things.

Sky has come back incredibly strongly (into the interactive advertising market) and more advertisers are returning, having recovered from the early problems.

"The whole thing on Sky is quietly being pushed forward - and they are doing that against a critical mass in terms of homes connected. So when terrestrial proves itself, then we can get excited. At the moment there's a lot of rearranging the deck chairs. Let's hope the ship isn't called the Titanic."

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