Interactive TV: The Viewers’ Verdict - What do the media experts who have used Open think of interactive TV? A panel of four tells all to Jenny Watts



Now that the consumers’ favourite has gone interactive, shopping, video

games, information and e-mail are all available on the TV. Our living

rooms are going digital. It’s exciting, unchartered territory and the

main thing that has stood out for me is its dual activity across two

distinctly different markets.

For those inclined to shop until they drop, Sky Digital through Open has

adopted a walled-garden approach.

Although this doesn’t fully represent the wealth of possibilities

offered by the platform as a whole, it will work purely because of these

restrictions. While other providers are still coming to terms with the

fact that reproducing existing web-based content for a television screen

does not answer the production plaudits, Sky can concentrate on offering

a prime quality shopping channel to its subscribers.

In minimising what they offer, its walled garden is easy to navigate,

simple to use and convenient to shop. And it usually delivers the


Although its design is not impressive, its production values appear to

work, but don’t expect to be blinded by its beauty.

Paradoxically, the cable offerings that should be hitting a screen near

you soon have taken a more ambitious approach in terms of scope.

However, their claims that consumers will get web access through their

television sets are proving more difficult to deliver.

It’s early days. Sky Digital may have cornered the mass market with its

restricted service, but in the long term, cable seems set to deliver.

It’s human nature to push the boundaries and people will want more.

Cable seems set to be more ambitious and its increased bandwidth will

offer a more effective and creative solution to delivering interactivity

through your TV set.


When I found myself in the Orlando Home of the 21st century in 1994, and

Full Service Network TV was available in every room, it seemed as though

the future was unveiling itself right there.

Six years on, interactive TV is a reality. As a completely new medium,

interactive TV companies should be applauded for having overcome

technical and regulatory constraints to make some encouraging


At the moment, there’s not much out there, but Open is gradually adding

to the service. It helps that many strong, traditional brands have

endorsed the medium, along with big names from the cyber world such as

Amazon and But sites need time to mature. Woolworths,

for example, has put its money where its mouth is and their site looks

good, but product wise it’s not as extensive as the internet site.

Interactive TV offers exciting design and creative issues but there’s

high expectation in terms of quality. It’s not like the internet when it

started, where people had no preconceptions.

There also has to be a development in the service. Banner advertising

may be sophisticated for the internet but is not enough for interactive

TV. We need to make interactive TV easy to use and combine good

production values with finding a way to link the broadcasting of a

commercial to the interactive area.

I haven’t completed many transactions, but I enjoy looking around. At

home we buy our groceries and books via the web and when the interactive

TV service has filled out, I will use it.

When technological restrictions are overcome, interactive TV will evolve

to become a personalised and intuitive service, which is customised for

each user. Then advertisers will really benefit.


It’s true to say that interactive TV is not as sophisticated and

seamless as it should be.

Often services on Open are not yet live and shopping products are only

available in selected interactive stores. The service is also sometimes

a little slower than I’d hoped. I always knew the latency wasn’t going

to be instantaneous but it’s still frustrating to press the button and

not know if you’ll get a response.

However, these facts alone are no reason to knock it. People should look

at the bigger picture and realise that the service offers a radical

proposition with huge potential. Every two weeks we hear of new features

designed to be used on the Open platform. It’s empowering consumers. In

time, interactive TV will offer us a broader, more holistic


We’ll be able to look at a video clip before deciding whether to go and

see a band, and that clip will far surpass the quality of clips used on

the internet.

Despite the limited product set at present, the impact the platform is

having is still incredible. With every service that goes live, we learn

something new. We’re exploring a new playground. It’s even effecting the

way we work - before we had monthly status reports in the agency but

because of the speed of change in this arena we’re putting pen to paper

every week.

It’s inevitable that certain people will be cynical of the medium, it

does require a leap of faith by the consumer. People are overwhelmed by

its potential. Every time a new version is built, more is learned about

what can be done with it. The initial success stories that are trickling

down are spurring the industry to harness the incredible potential that

is interactive TV.


Open should be congratulated for getting itself running before the cable

industry, which is still struggling to roll out.

However, as a representative of the interactive TV platform, it is by no

means out of the woods. Speed of service on the shopping channel leaves

much to be desired.

It takes a long time to browse what limited stock there is, and even if

you can find what you want, there are unforeseen pitfalls strewn to

litter the shopping superhighway.

I tried to test the interactive service by ordering a pizza and it was

only after I’d been through the lengthy ordering process, that I was

informed I wasn’t in the catchment area. I live the other side of

Crystal Palace, not the Congo. It may be the couch potatoes’ nirvana,

but it does little to endear the whole interactive experience to the


However, Open represents first-generation shopping television. Cable may

promise faster response times in its improved second generation

technology, but interactive television’s potential is clear.

In a seven-week period during which Hasbro’s Trivial Pursuit game was

live, more than 1.1 million connections were registered on the premium

rate line featured at the end of the game. From an entertainment

provision point of view, Hasbro has proved that designing an attractive

game drives traffic - enough to supersede expectations.

Clearly a balance is required. If as much onus is put on the creative

process as the technical side of the interactive TV platform, we will

see the other services performing equally profitably and


We know the future of relationship marketing lies here and, after all,

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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