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'Interactive TV' Remains a Non-Starter

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April 09, 2012

'Interactive TV' Remains a Non-Starter

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor


Interactive TV has gotten substantial attention from content owners, artists, distributors and advertisers over the last few decades. But there has been little meaningful change in the television experience that is related directly to the linear format. Display resolution and screen form factors have changed. But the product itself is remarkably the same, with the exception of vastly more “networks” and, many would say, the emergence of reality TV. 

Most would say the potential changes that could happen, in terms of delivery by online services and apps, are the next big area of change. But few expect the linear storytelling format to alter much. 

Bismarck Lepe, Ooyala president of Products, apparently does not believe the television business will be all that different in five years, especially as related to the way television is produced and consumed, despite growing use of online delivery. 

It still is primarily “storytelling,” and lots of observers would say all the “interactive features” once touted for television have failed to take hold for several reasons, among them the key insight that storytelling is not necessarily “improved” by allowing viewers or listeners to change plot lines, for example. 

A couple of decades ago, there was much more interest in interactive television features that might allow such changes, as well as more advertising and multimedia features. But those efforts failed

Even arguably “less ambitious” efforts to create standards for interactive TV ads likewise have failed

As it turns out, at least so far, television remains a “lean back” consuming experience. Consumers do not, at least not yet, have much interest in “lean forward” television, a stark contrast with much use of the Web or video gaming, for example.

That's one reason why many believe the big changes to come might not be about the television format (linear storytelling), but more about the way television is purchased or packaged. 

“It’s still going to be storytelling,” he argues, whether the channel is a video entertainment services provider, an online service or application, or some form of packaged media. 

New payment methods, on the other hand, might play a bigger role, some argue. But that doesn't change the fundamental nature of the experience, the way the product is designed, or necessarily the delivery channel. 

One might note that the emergence of the Web now supplies many of the interaction benefits consumers might actually care about, including more information about actors, events or ideas presented in television shows. Text messaging supplies many of the “polling” features early interactive TV systems promised. 

The Web arguably also offers a better way to engage with programs, networks or brands, on an on-going basis. Perhaps unexpected developments will occur. But few can sense changes in the linear storytelling function. 

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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