Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2008

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

With the broadcast blackout date fast approaching, everyone will soon be watching TV using cable or satellite-provided content. And when that happens, viewers will have access to more than just their favorite shows.

Interactive TV (iTV) is already here. If you have Video On Demand from your provider, use a menu guide to choose your shows or have a built-in Digital Video Recorder (DVR), you are using iTV. That’s not news. What is news is iTV’s money-munching big brother, Clickable TV.

In the future there will be no need to have both a computer and a TV set for interative television...

 


It’s not here yet, but a little ways down the road you may be able to buy not only merchandise from the show you are watching at that moment but also just about any item displayed on the screen as well. If, say, you like the show “Heroes”, you can buy a t-shirt before the first commercial break. Like the book that one of the characters is reading? Order it from Amazon.com with your remote. While the show is running there will be items onscreen you can click on using your remote that will allow you to buy the same item from retailers such as Walmart, JCPenny, Amazon and more. And if you are interested in other merchandise from the show you can open an online catalog filled with baseball hats, posters and soundtracks purchasable from iTunes.

Not everything about iTV will be designed to attack your wallet, though. While you are watching the news you can forward the news story to your e-mail or share it with friends and family by sending messages to their e-mail or mobile phone. You may even be able to link it to your blog or other online community portals. The information may also provide you with expanded information that time could not allow for on the television broadcast and also be able to provide you with alerts when the story has been updated.

iTV can also open a whole new experience for reality television. Vote for your favorite singer or musician before the show is over, e-mail cast members or vote for your favorite episode. Viewers can send mobile text messages to the show and the plot transforms on the basis of the keywords picked from the messages.

And if you are in the mood for shopping, the commercial content will also have an interactive element. While watching a national car commercial you can click to have information about local dealers, rebates, special offers as well as contact information sent to your inbox.

The range of items you could go shopping for is limitless. If you are watching a live broadcast you could still pause it, open the attached shopping guide and purchase anything from the music being played on the show to the clothes and jewelry the people wore or even pieces of furniture that are being used on the set. Watching a show about pets or gardening? Have coupons or helpful tips e-mailed to you, or sign-up for a newsletter from the interactive menu. Move over e-commerce: welcome t-commerce – short, of course, for “television commerce”.

In the future, there will be no need to have both a computer and a TV set for interactive television as the interactive content will be built into the system via the next generation of set-top boxes. But until that day comes, many of these techniques are already being used today for content that is already online. Video creators can create hidden links over certain people or objects in their videos and then upload them to video-hosting sites such as YouTube.com.

Networks may begin making use of existing technology and also offer a standard and extended version of their programming, where their regular broadcast may be on channel 34 but an enhanced version would be on 234. This new channel would have the live video feed in the upper right corner of the screen and the areas to the left and below would contain related content. This content could be browsed by category and be playable on demand just as if you were browsing video content on a website. The content would most likely contain advertisements that would also be interactive to provide more information or make purchases. All of this can be done using the on demand features built into the converter boxes many of us already own.

Interactive or Clickable TV has been talked about for almost a decade. The goal is to have the viewer be able to use their existing equipment to be able to interact with the show or commercial they are watching. But beware of the dark side; increased interaction may mean an increase of targeted advertising. Advertising will appear wherever it can be shoehorned in – that much can be expected. But if you don’t have kids in the house and aren’t watching programming designed for young children, you won’t see the ads for diapers and baby bottles. Instead, they will be replaced with ads that relate to the shows that you are watching. Like shows with car chases? Then expect some car ads. Watch pet shows? Here come some furry ads. Watch Saturday morning cartoons, hello, Toys R Us.

There are some great programs on TV, and advertising feeds the angry beast that brings them to us. Interactive Clickable Television will also bring a new meaning to “impulse shopping” and probably will be responsible for the creation of a few new support groups. This is the way things are heading and I, for one, am guilty of trying to remember the name of a song by humming the tune. If I can order the song I hear on a show, put it on my iPod and listen to it after the show is over, then I will be one of the ones guilty of feeding the beast.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2008

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