NTL Tries Harder to Spend ITV Millions

London-British MSO NTL Inc. is having trouble doling out the first part of a £25 million ($35 million) fund for would-be producers of digital-TV programming.

Not satisfied with some 200 applications for its Digital Content Fund, the MSO has put out the call for additional submissions, and plans to hold a seminar to educate producers on exactly what it wants.

NTL began its digital rollout in May. The MSO launched the fund in March, with the aim of funding the development of programming that will exploit digital's potential.

It budgeted £5 million ($7 million) per year over five years, hoping to foster the growth of enhanced-TV productions and skill sets among British producers.

The fund's first year is dedicated specifically to interactive-TV projects, or as NTL CEO Barclay Knapp has put it, "enteractivity."

"The purpose of the fund is to create interactive-production expertise without placing the financial burden on the little guy," said NTL Digital Content Fund business manager Heidie Gracie.

The response to the fund, however, was not as inspired as NTL had hoped. According to NTL head of corporate affairs Will Robson, the 200 applications varied significantly in quality. He declined to provide additional details.

Kris Jones, head of public affairs at the Producer

Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT), a trade group, said the submissions fell into two categories: those that wanted to "bolt on" a degree of interactivity to an existing show, and those that wanted NTL to fully fund programming intended only for interactivity.

But the purpose of the fund, for at least its first year, is to develop original products that are intrinsically interactive and intrinsically television.

Jones has insight into the submissions because NTL has asked PACT to help it conduct a workshop for potential applicants on Oct. 18 in London. The event would give officials with the MSO an opportunity to explain what they want.

Polling, electronic-commerce, the ability to influence the outcome of programs à la Survivor and the ability to switch camera angles are all examples of the type of interactivity that interests NTL, Robson said.

When the seminar venue has been set, it will be posted on NTL's Web site at www.ntl.com/dcf. The deadline for submissions to the fund is Nov. 17.