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Enhanced TVs platform pitfalls

Enhanced TV, the marriage of Internet content with television programming, will be commonplace on the interactive television of the future. Before that happens, though, programmers, cable operators and technology companies must work together to develop a common platform for enhanced content, according to a panel of network and online executives at the CES show in Las Vegas.

"Enhanced TV Content: Leveraging and Merging the TV and Internet Medias," a panel run through the Digital Hollywood conference at CES, brought together executives from NBC, Fox Sports Net, HBO, Disney and AOL.

Richard Glover, executive vice president of Internet media for ABC Inc. and Walt Disney Internet Group, said Disney has tackled enhanced TV by building a common infrastructure that can be used to generate online content for any of the Disney networks. Disney's strategy, as exemplified by its real-time online games for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
and Monday Night Football, is to synchronize online content with popular shows, said Glover. So far, it appears to be working: 10 million people have tried Millionaire's online component, and some 122,000 users simultaneously played ABC's online football game during the broadcast of the Orange Bowl.

"The key to all of this is, it starts with the TV programming," said Glover. "It's not a stand-alone thing."

Disney's answer to compatibility problems, said Glover, is to remain a "two-box application" for now, with an online component designed for simple dial-up connections. "We see the two-box application as working over all platforms. When the terms are right, we will be coming out with a single screen platform."

HBO takes a different view of enhanced TV, according to Sarah Cotsen, vice president of interactive ventures for the network. Unlike Disney, HBO doesn't think the online content has to be synchronized with the program. HBO's Sex and the City
site, for example, is "a way to maintain the viewer's interest between different episodes," said Cotsen.

Marty Yudkovitz, president of NBC Digital Media and executive vice president of NBC, said the ability to personal enhanced content, as CNBC has done with personalized stock quotes through the Wink platform, could make it very effective for advertisers. "It delivers what the Internet was supposed to deliver."

Rob Nenner, director for business development for AOLTV, said his company views AOLTV as "a product unto itself, not AOL on your TV," and is trying to create compelling new content for the medium while including "sticky features and functions that people do every day," such as e-mail.

Fox Sports Net is developing two ambitious "one-box" applications, Fox Sports Extra and Fox Sports Active, that will bring sports fans extra statistics and different camera angles.

"There are 5 million boxes at BskyB, and there's wide consumer acceptance of the product," said Tracy Dolgin, president of Fox Sports Net.