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ITV Stories Come Up Short at NATPE

LAS VEGAS-In true Gong Show
tradition, it took the judges less than 20 seconds to kick a contestant in the "Interactive Pitch Me" competition off the stage because she had the nerve to pitch an interactive-television program that required the use of the PC.

Indeed, the ITV players who flocked to the National Association of Television Programming Executives convention here last week-where the "Pitch Me" competition was held-found a very tough crowd.

Using ITV applications to allow viewers to respond to polls, chat with on-air talent or shop by remote control may have been considered groundbreaking stuff a few years ago.

But some attendees grumbled that ITV hasn't moved beyond the few programming networks that have tacked interactive polls or chats onto existing shows. And they noted that none of the major studios, such as Warner Bros. or Universal Studios, are producing shows that integrate interactivity from their conception.

"People talk about interactive TV being the talking dog. Everybody's really excited that the dog can talk, but does anybody care what the dog has to say?" asked Lee Hunt, managing director of media and entertainment for design firm Razorfish.

"In reality, it's going to be a new form of storytelling," Hunt added, comparing the storytelling potential of ITV to the introduction of radio, film and television.

NATPE president Bruce Johansen said many television station executives told him one of the main reasons they attended the convention was to learn more about ITV.

Johansen, who also said he was disappointed about the lack of creative ideas at the "Pitch Me" competition and elsewhere at the show, said he didn't think the major studios would commit to producing an interactive series until the economics of producing an ITV show are proven.

Dozens of ITV and new-media players exhibited at the convention, including Liberate Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corp., ACTV Inc. and WorldGate Communications Inc.

"I don't feel out of place here. These are our customers," said Rob Glidden, market development manager for broadband and digital media at Sun Microsystems Inc., which made its first appearance at NATPE.

"We're very enthusiastic about being here. We see this as a key venue to connect the technology vendors with the content community, and that's why where we're here," Glidden said.

Glidden and executives from Liberate and Microsoft said their goal at NATPE wasn't to strike deals, but to educate content developers about what they can do with ITV.

"The tools are in place, the platforms are in place, and the installed base is growing. Hopefully we can help the content owners to understand what's available as they take their shows to the next level," said Mark Mullen, senior director of Microsoft's UltimateTV division.

Liberate director of developer relations Erik Smith said he didn't expect studios to begin shooting interactive programs until digital set-tops are widely deployed in the United States.

"The smart companies are starting to think about it," said Smith, who declined to say who those companies are.

There were a few ITV deals announced at the show, which involved the addition of interactivity to existing programming.

CBS said it would add interactive elements to its series CSI: Crime Series Investigation
and its coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament.

And Discovery Channel said it would test out Kobalt Interactive's platform to add an interactive element to its Desert Mummies
show, but it announced no plans to offer the interactive version to subscribers.