Click Your Pick

Recovering shopaholics might dread the thought of "one-click" shopping with the remote. But QVC, OpenTV, and Charter Cable hope a new service will trigger TV commerce.

"Impulse purchasing tied to video programming has worked in a number of countries, and we believe it will work here in the United States," says OpenTV CEO James Ackerman.

Slated for launch this summer by Charter Cable, the service will use OpenTV's ProSync, which allows viewers to place an order without leaving the sofa or putting down the remote. Charter will deploy the service to 1.3 million iTV-enabled homes that use the Motorola DCT 2000 and Scientific-Atlanta Explorer set-top boxes.

"We're hopeful that 100% of our items will be eligible for sale," says QVC Chief Information Officer Robert Cochran. The stumbling block for iTV sales services, he adds, has been clothing color and size selection. But QVC has solved that problem in the U.K., and the U.S. system will use similar technology (the U.S. system will also share the same interactive gateway.)

The new system handles all aspects of the transaction: size and color selection, verification, billing, and even sales-tax computation by using the IP address of the set-top box to verify location. He says QVC wants to have the system up and running by October.

Coupled with the QVC deployment, OpenTV's launch of SportsActive and NewsActive could make iTV a hot topic at cable's National Show in New Orleans this week. The two new services fulfill a iTV promise that has been discussed for years: A single-screen interface lets viewers select multiple camera angles and multiple news feeds. More important, they work with low-end set-top boxes.

The sports application gives users a screen divided into four video panels, each panel showing a different angle. Viewers click on the angle they want to view; they can also select different audio feeds. It also has real-time statistics and player profiles, features that could tap into the growing "fantasy sports" market.

"Once the application is in place and integrated with the sports-production equipment," says Ackerman, "it takes care of itself."

The news application is a little more hands-on.

Someone in the newsroom needs to manually update the different news loops. The interface gives the user a choice of up to eight different feeds that can be specialized for business, entertainment, or whatever categories the network wants. Each video loop is updated; then the content is sent to the on-demand video server. When the user picks a feed, the on-demand content is accessed and displayed at one-third the screen size.

"We believe the benefit to a CNN or other news network is that consumers will visit the channel more frequently because they're going to see what they want to see," says Ackerman. The application requires about two channels of bandwidth on the cable system. Cable operators, he believes, will see it as a huge distinction from the competition.