Tuesday, August 30, 2005

One more random Tuesday thang


New on TV: The Multiple-Channel Screen
By PETER GRANT Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNALAugust 30, 2005
When pro football starts in September, fans who sign up for the "SuperFan" game package offered by satellite operator DirecTV Group Inc. will get a new feature: a channel on which they'll be able to watch eight games on one screen.

But viewers who don't feel like shelling out about $300 for SuperFan will have other options for watching several programs at once -- whether it's sports, news or shopping shows. The multiple-channel screen, known in the television industry as a "mosaic," is about to show up on millions of TVs throughout the country. It's another sign that satellite and cable systems are beginning to embrace interactive television after years of hype about the concept.

EchoStar Communications Inc. is set to announce today that its Dish Network satellite service has added the mosaic feature to its "Dish Home" channel. Viewers who tune to Dish Home, where they have access to a wide range of interactive features like games and shopping, will see what's happening on six channels, currently all tuned to news stations.

Dish Home subscribers will be able to watch six programs on one TV screen.

Comcast Corp. this fall is planning to launch a similar mosaic feature on a new "portal" screen that subscribers to its cable systems will see when they first turn on their TVs.

On the left side of the portal will be the various viewing options, like switching to on-demand movies or scrolling through channels.

In the middle will be six screens showing what's happening on different channels organized along different themes, like children's shows, sports or news.

Viewers will be able to use their remote controls to navigate among the channel boxes on the mosaic guides offered by all three operators. The audio they hear will be from the screen they highlight. By selecting it again, the box expands to fill the entire screen. EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS IS WHERE THEY START TO GET MY ATTENTION. CHANNEL SURFING FOR THE TRULY DEDICATED.

"When the consumer comes home and powers on they'll be greeted by a new experience," says Gerard Kunkel, a Comcast vice president who heads the joint venture between Comcast and Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. that is developing the new guide.

The television industry has been promising interactive features for more than 15 years, but now it's finally starting to deliver as competition intensifies. The cable industry is fighting to keep satellite companies from luring away subscribers, and both of them soon will face telephone companies that are beefing up their lines so they also can offer TV service.

Dish Network subscribers, for example, also can now use their remotes to play games, buy goods from Sharper Image or even bet on horse races, in the dozen or so states where that's legal. Time Warner Inc.'s cable division is launching a new guide that will enable viewers to do such things as call up local weather and traffic reports, upgrade their service and see the phone number of a caller when the phone rings. In a pilot program, Time Warner cable customers in Austin, Texas, can monitor the progress of their eBay auctions and increase their bids via remote while watching TV. EDITOR’S NOTE: I GUESS I’M GOING TO HAVE TO ROTATE THE FUTON CUSHIONS; THE DENT IN THE PLACE WHERE I’VE BEEN SITTING IS GOING TO BECOME PERMANENT.

Programmers also are getting into the act. Playboy Enterprises Inc. is working with operators to enable viewers to order the channel via remote instead of by phone and is exploring the use of the mosaic feature to promote its content. EDITOR’S NOTE: A SIX-BUNNY SCREEN? Discovery Communications Inc. has been looking at ways viewers can shop with their remotes for fitness-related products on its Fit TV network. EDITOR’S NOTE: HOW LIKELY IS IT THAT SOMEONE WHO WANTS A MOSAIC SURFING OPTION WILL CARE ABOUT EVER GETTING UP TO EXERCISE?

Interactive TV is coming of age at a time of dramatic change in the television industry. Not only are new competitors emerging but the viewing habits of millions are being transformed by technology, including TiVo-like digital video recorders and video-on-demand services. Since most operators offer essentially the same channel lineup, they are turning to new features like mosaic to attract and retain subscribers.

They also are hoping that by making TV appear more like the Internet, they'll reverse the trend among some segments of the population, particularly younger people, of spending more time on their computers and less time watching TV. "Kids that grew up with calculators and computers are now adults and they want to punch keys," says media analyst Paul Kagan. EDITOR’S NOTE: I’M NOT SAYING HE’S NOT RIGHT, BUT HE DOES MAKE US SOUND SORT OF LIKE CHIMPS, DOESN’T HE?

Some interactive features also have the potential to generate revenue, especially in the $60-billion-a-year TV commercial market. Operators like EchoStar and Time Warner Cable already have begun to experiment with commercials that allow viewers to request more information from advertisers with their remotes.

"Viewers can interact with advertisements on TV as much as they can with advertisements on the Internet," says Peter Stern, executive vice president of Time Warner Cable. EDITOR’S NOTE: SO WE CAN IGNORE THEM AND HAVE THE SOUND OFF?

Cable has a technological advantage over satellite on the interactivity front because signals can be sent both to and from a cable subscriber's home, allowing the customer to order a show or a product with a click of the remote. (Satellite, by contrast, is a one-way system.) But cable operators have held back on offering many interactive features because only subscribers who pay for "digital" cable, which costs about $10 to $15 more a month than standard "analog" cable, can get them. Today, with close to half of subscribers at some cable companies getting digital, it has become cost-effective to offer interactivity.

Satellite operators have attempted to make up for their handicap by sometimes using a customer's phone wire for a return path -- which ties up the line if there's only one in a household.

Lacking a two-way path, satellite operators can't offer video on demand the way cable companies do. They've started a similar service for subscribers who get their latest boxes, which have enough storage for movies and other programs downloaded by the operator. But the operators won't be able to match the volume of content that many cable companies make available.

DirecTV, which is controlled by News Corp., lets subscribers watch practically every Sunday National Football League game with the SuperFan package. Subscribers can monitor the scores and progress of every game. A special alert is sent whenever any team moves the ball within the 20-yard line so the viewer can switch to the game to see if they score. EDITOR’S NOTE: RABID SPORTS FANS MAKE WE MERE DWEEBS SEEM SO…..NORMAL.


Post a Comment

<< Home