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Bridge the Gap

There is little doubt that interactive-TV (ITV) service, with its variety of platforms and software systems, requires the COPE philosophy: Create Once, Publish Everywhere. For ITV-authoring company EnSequence President and CEO Dalen Harrison, that mantra translates into an opportunity. He recently discussed the interactive-TV market with B&C.

How do you define an interactive experience?

We do everything from applications that look like a guide to enhanced content to virtual channels. Our belief is that you shouldn't limit creative people. Instead, they should work on the interactive content. They know their audience, and they know how to expand it.

How should cable operators approach interactive?

Right now, they're looking at the right stuff. They're looking at improving their set-top–box capability and improving the two-way networking capabilities of their systems. But there is a piece no one is solving: Once the operators are done with modernization and improvement, they'll have different systems. The interactive content needs to go across all
platforms. It will never be profitable for a company like Discovery to re-author content eight times. That just isn't going to happen. That's where we come in.

If DirecTV follows the BSkyB satellite model of interactive services, will it be a big part of their offering?

Rupert Murdoch has spoken openly about interactive services that will shock people. It's pretty clear that the interactive company NDS [which is heavily involved with BSkyB] is revitalizing their old stuff and making it ready for a quick launch.

What will that mean to the market overall? Will it jump-start interactive TV?

It will give it a major push. Murdoch is making more than £400 million on interactive services in the UK—one-third of it gaming, one-third advertising and one-third other stuff. The gaming services are what U.S. operators are most excited about. But enhanced television will be important, too.

The personal video recorder seems to be an important part of future interactive services, offering things like personalized advertising. What's your take?

TiVo is not the endgame. Where it is today is just the start of what it will do. EchoStar has more PVR boxes as a single operator than anyone else. Cable operators are catching up. Murdoch is going to make a move into that market with DirecTV. So there will be a variety of PVRs. What it offers is a DVD-like experience around every piece of content and the ability to pseudo-edit things, like sporting events. All those things are about authoring. That's what we've focused on: making content work across different technologies.

Does the PVR make it imperative for distributors to get involved with interactive technology?

Absolutely. Long term, it creates a problem that can only be solved with interactive solutions. Fast-forwarding through commercials isn't a problem from the consumer point of view, but it is for broadcasters and advertisers. And there are interactive solutions, like pulling up an ad on half the screen while fast-forwarding or forcing viewers to watch commercials to get content for free.

Is a service that prevents viewers from fast-forwarding viable?

Nobody knows what is going to tick off consumers or what they'll accept. It's going to happen by trial and error. But the problem today is that even trial and error is tough. TiVo has some problems; other distributors are going to their own low-cost versions. The only thing that isn't a commodity is the service piece, and that will become a commodity at some point.