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To advance ITV

The Advanced Television Enhancement Forum, an organization formed in 1996 to promote interactive television, has been reborn as the Advanced Television Forum.

Its mission, however, is much the same: to stimulate education, content development, and deployment of interactive- and enhanced-TV material.

Although ATVEF launched with much fanfare, little happened as interactive TV lost momentum amid a series of technical debates surrounding the digital television transition. As planned, the organization faded away last year.

The new ATV Forum looks to build on renewed interest in the ITV space, especially among cable and satellite-TV providers.

To its credit, ATVEF did release a set of specifications in September 1999 to teach content producers how to add common "triggers," or data within the video signal, that help viewers request information. That technology is useful for simple commerce transactions—such as ordering a pizza.

The ATVEF specification is widely used today by such companies as Liberate and Microsoft, two founding members of the new organization. It's currently in the EchoStar DISHplayer product and DirecTV's Ultimate TV set-top box. Indeed, Microsoft says it delivers more than 800 hours of ATVEF-compliant material each week to ABC, NBC, Discovery and The Weather Channel, among others. The initial ATVEF specification has also become the basis for new work in SMPTE and other standards bodies around the world.

The new organization, according to Executive Director Jerry Bennington, a TCI and Cable Labs veteran, will build on the ATVEF specs that use well-understood Web authoring tools for interactive TV, including Sun Microsystems' Java and HTML.

"The idea is to be inclusive," he says, "because there will be technology coming out of the cable industry and other groups that will be useful in building the interactive-TV business."

ATV Forum comprises about 30 content, delivery and technology companies. Major players like Cable Labs, Chyron, Disney, Intel, MSNBC, NBC, Triveni Digital and Turner Broadcasting have each paid an annual fee of $2,000 to $10,000.

Heading the board are President Paul Mitchell, of Microsoft; Vice President Bill Hendler, Chyron Corp.; Secretary Marjorie Curtis, TwoWayTV; and Treasurer, Tim Larcombe,

Initially, ATV will work to develop symposia, a newsletter and online bulletin boards to keep members connected. "The real goal is to create an atmosphere so that content producers have less risk in entering this space," Bennington says, adding that, in the next few months, the group will launch a series of initiatives, beginning with an event at the upcoming IBC convention.