:CueTV cues NBC quiz

NBC is using :CueTV technology and a Web-based sweepstakes promotion to bring people back to their television. In a marked departure from its previous strategy of encouraging TV viewers to log on to its NBCi Web site, the network is looking to bolster its core business by encouraging repeated viewing of on-air content.

On Thursday, May 24, audio cues and a small red :C icon began appearing in the lower-right corner of the screen during ER to promote the NBCIQ trivia sweepstakes. The contest, running June 13 to July 11, tests viewers' knowledge of NBC programs.

At the cue, viewers participating in NBCIQ can go to their computer to see an automatically displayed Web page designated by the program producer. Correctly answering a series of questions relating to the program earns viewers the chance to win more than $400,000 in prizes.

The :CueTV technology was developed by Dallas-based Digital:Convergence. A joint venture of Belo Broadcasting, Young & Rubicam Inc., E.W. Scripps Co. and RadioShack Corp., the company created the :CueCat, a wired device that allows consumers to scan print magazines—currently, Forbes, Gear, and Adweek—and automatically launch a dedicated Web site.

The system sends a signal, via an audio "cue" embedded in television programming, to a PC or Macintosh with an audio cable between the audio input on the computer and the audio output of the TV. If the same mode is chosen in the :CRQ software, the cue's tone is identified and automatically translated, and a corresponding Web page with additional information is launched onto the viewer's computer screen. The computer must be on when the cue is issued, though not necessarily connected to the Internet. Messages can be collected in the background as a list to be accessed later.

According to Jay Feldman, executive vice president of the Media Group at Digital: Convergence (and a former Discovery Travel Channel executive), the :CRQ software "listens" for four video frames of silence, which alerts it to be ready for the audio cue in the following three frames. The software translates the cue to instruct Digital:Convergence servers throughout the country to display the related Web page on the consumer's PC.

To participate in the sweepstakes, consumers must obtain a free :CueTV kit, containing a 20-foot cable and :CRQ software, at a RadioShack retail location. As of May 28, more than 50,000 people had acquired the kit, according to Feldman. A wireless system is available for use in houses where the computer and TV are not in the same room. No set-top box or fee is required.

Cues during morning, afternoon and prime time promotional spots will direct viewers' computers to a Web page featuring the NBCIQ trivia contest. The first shows to use the technology during the sweepstakes will be NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC and selected sitcoms. During NBC Nightly News, for example, viewers' Web browsers will automatically launch pages with further information about a particular news segment.

For viewers who play along on their PC in the same mode as the cue appears, six instant prizes will be offered in each of the three broadcast zones on each day of the contest.

"Until now, watching television and using a computer have been disconnected experiences," said John Miller, president of The NBC Agency, the network's in-house advertising/promotion division. "With :CueTV, we can build a bridge between these two media and, at the same time, reward loyal NBC viewers."

The NBCIQ sweepstakes questions, covering a range of NBC-related trivia, will be a mixture of time-sensitive and basic questions. Participants will have the chance to win General Motors vehicles, Compaq computers, RCA 32-inch TVs, DVD players, magazine subscriptions and one of five grand prizes of 1 million American Airline miles each.

NBCIQ is being produced and hosted by Gold Pocket Interactive, and Promosis Inc. is administering the sweepstakes.

"It's all about using the Web to enhance the TV experience," Feldman says. "Which is the exact opposite of what media companies were talking about two years ago."

Referring to the 50,000 people who went to RadioShack stores to pick up the :CueTV kit over the Memorial Day weekend, Kim Reed, an NBC spokesman, notes that "we find the number to be very impressive. It shows that the potential is there and we plan to monitor the participation very closely as we get through the contest dates."