Executives Muse On Interactive TV Merits

Linear television isn't dead yet, but cable operators and broadcasters are nonetheless working hard on integrating traditional TV with the Internet and mobile media, using technology to provide customers what they really want: convenience.

At a panel session at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit here Wednesday, Time Warner Cable COO Landel Hobbs said that the next generation of television -- the so-called Television 2.0 -- will include not only time shifting (which customers are doing already with digital video recorders), but place-shifting, or viewing their content on multiple screens. While that is occurring to a limited extent today, it could become more widespread.

"Television 2.0 should be device-agnostic, include fabulous content -- which is just as important as distribution -- and delivered to different devices," Hobbs said.

Discovery Communications senior vice president of digital media Rebecca Glashow said that the trick is to find online content and interactive applications that enhance the existing linear product, not replace it. For example, she said that Discovery was an early pioneer n the high-definition TV space, an area the programmer continues to be committed to.

"It's not a dead medium," Glashow said of linear TV.

Glashow added that on the interactive front, Discovery offers online content that includes additional video from shows, behind-the-scenes clips and interactive applications tied to programming.

"Different media give us a way to go beyond TV," Glashow said. "It's recognizing that people still want to engage differently on different platforms. We listen to viewers and give them what they want."

Glashow added that while finding the connection between linear content and online applications is a big part of her job, she also realizes that not all shows should be interactive.

"Some shows are inherently interactive and we do that," Glashow said. "But there is content where it isn't the right fit; it is a more passive experience and we're going to keep pushing that."

Starz Media senior vice president of business development and strategy Marc DeBevoise agreed that interactivity should enhance existing programming, and added that according to a study the network recently commissioned, linear viewership is up.

"People are still watching linear TV," DeBevoise said. "It's not eating into the core business, it's adding to it."
But as audiences become more fragmented, it plays well for cable networks and premium channels like Starz that go after a more targeted audience.

Hobbs said that another advantage for cable is that it has access to reams of data around viewing habits, Internet usage, and the like that can be immensely valuable to advertisers.

"We are sitting on a very powerful network that is collecting a tremendous amount of rich data," Hobbs said, noting that the information that could be used for performance-based advertising. "We can do it, the networks like it, and the advertisers really like it."

Hobbs added that he was aware of the privacy quagmire that could accompany the actual usage of such data. Any information obtained, he said, would adhere to strict privacy rules and no information could be tied to a specific individual.