Showtime Goes Textual

Showtime is marrying a wireless platform to its 10-week American Candidate reality TV program, extending the definition of ITV to cell phones.

American Candidate, in which 10 contestants compete in a week-by-week political campaign, debuted Aug. 1. In the early weeks, Showtime conducted two chat sessions via the Verizon Wireless platform.

As the season progresses, Showtime will add wireless text messaging, on-air polls and real-time responses from candidates to viewer questions. The Aug. 15 episode included a trivia question sent to cell phone participants. Their responses showed up as a graphic overlay on the Showtime TV screen about 15 minutes later.

The goals are to build viewership and a community around the program, said Showtime senior vice president of new media Robert Hayes. “If we can build a community around the show, there is a halo effect applied to the network as a whole.”

The short messaging service that makes the text and chats possible is powered by GoldPocket Interactive Inc.’s EM Connect technology. Verizon customers need a text messaging-enabled phone to send and receive messages.

In the early episodes, contestants on the show vote off one candidate. In episodes eight and nine, cell phone users will be able to cast votes and determine who moves on. “That’s the big payoff,” Hayes said.

Showtime is looking at developing applications for other programs, such as Dead Like Me and Queer as Folk.