Interactive television

Interactive television

Interactive television (generally known as iTV) describes a number of techniques that allow viewers to interact with television content as they view it.

Definitions of Interactive Television

Interactive television represents a continuum from low interactivity (TV on/off, volume, changing channels) to moderate interactivity (simple movies on demand without player controls) and high interactivity in which, for example, an audience member affects the program being watched. The most obvious example of this would be any kind of real-time voting on the screen, in which audience votes create decisions that are reflected in how the show continues. A return path to the program provider is not necessary to have an interactive program experience. Once a movie is downloaded for example, controls may all be local. The link was needed to download the program, but texts and software which can be executed locally at the set-top box or IRD (Integrated Receiver Decoder) may occur automatically, once the viewer enters the channel.

Return path

To be truly interactive, the viewer must be able to alter the viewing experience (eg choose which angle to watch a football match), or return information to the broadcaster.

This "return path" or "back channel" can be by telephone, mobile SMS (text messages), radio, digital subscriber lines (ADSL) or cable.

Cable TV viewers receive their programs via a cable, and in the integrated cable return path enabled platforms, they use the same cable as a return path.

Satellite viewers (mostly) return information to the broadcaster via their regular telephone lines. They are charged for this service on their regular telephone bill. An Internet connection via ADSL, or other, data communications technology, is also being increasingly used.

Interactive TV can also be delivered via a terrestrial aerial (Digital Terrestrial TV such as 'Freeview' in the UK). In this case, there is often no 'return path' as such - so data cannot be sent back to the broadcaster (so you could not, for instance, vote on a TV show, or order a product sample) . However, interactivity is still possible as there is still the opportunity to interact with an application which is broadcast and downloaded to the set-top box (so you could still choose camera angles, play games etc).

Increasingly the return path is becoming a broadband IP connection, and some hybrid receivers are now capable of displaying video from either the IP connection or from traditional tuners. Some devices are now dedicated to displaying video only from the IP channel, which has given rise to IPTV - Internet Protocol Television. The rise of the "broadband return path" has given new relevance to Interactive TV, as it opens up the need to interact with Video on Demand servers, advertisers, and web site operators.

Forms of interaction

The term "interactive television" is used to refer to a variety of rather different kinds of interactivity (both as to usage and as to technology), and this can lead to considerable misunderstanding. At least three very different levels are important (see also the instructional video literature which has described levels of interactivity in computer-based instruction which will look very much like tomorrow's interactive television):

Interactivity with a TV set

The simplest, Interactivity with a TV set is the one that is already very successful. This got its first big jump with the use of the remote control to enable channel surfing behaviours, and has evolved to include video-on-demand, VCR-like pause, rewind, and fast forward, and DVRs, commercial skipping and the like. It does not change any content or its inherent linearity, only how we control the viewing of that content. DVRs allow users to time shift content in a way that most VCR owners never learned to do. This is a kind of interactive TV, and not insignificant, but it is not what is meant in any full sense of the term. It is already taking place in many homes. Calling the simple use of a remote control to turn TV sets on and off as an example of interactivity is like saying turning the pages of a book makes the book interactive.

Interactivity with TV program content

In its deepest sense, Interactivity with TV program content is the one that is "interactive TV", but it is also the most challenging to produce. This is the idea that the program, itself, might change based on viewer input. Advanced forms, which still have uncertain prospect for becoming mainstream, include dramas where viewers get to choose or influence plot details and endings.

*As an example, in Accidental Lovers viewers can send mobile text messages to the broadcast and the plot transforms on the basis of the keywords picked from the messages.
*Global Television Network offers a Two-Screen Solutions interactive game for Big Brother 8 (US) "'In The House'" which allows viewers to predict who will win each competition, who's going home, as well as answering trivia questions and instant recall challenges throughout the live show. Viewers login to the Global website to play, with no downloads required.
*Another kind of example of interactive content is the Hugo game on Television where viewers called the production studio, and were allowed to control the game character in real time using telephone buttons by studio personnel, similar to The Price is Right.
*Another example is the Clickvision Interactive Perception Panel used on news programmes in Britain, a kind of instant clapometer run over the telephone.

Simpler forms, which are enjoying some success, include programs that directly incorporate polls, questions, comments, and other forms of (virtual) audience response back into the show. There is much debate as to how effective and popular this kind of truly interactive TV can be. It seems likely that some forms of it will be popular, but that viewing of pre-defined content, with a scripted narrative arc, will remain a major part of the TV experience indefinitely. The United States lags far behind the rest of the developed world in its deployment of interactive television. This is a direct response to the fact that commercial television in the U.S. is not controlled by the government, whereas the vast majority of other countries' television systems are controlled by the government. These "centrally planned" television systems are made interactive by fiat, whereas in the U.S., only some members of the Public Broadcasting System has this capability.

Commercial broadcasters and other content providers serving the US market are constrained from adopting advanced interactive technologies because they must serve the desires of their customers, earn a level of return on investment for their investors, and are dependent on the penetration of interactive technology into viewers' homes. In association with many factors such as
* requirements for backward compatibility of TV content formats, form factors and Customer Premise Equipment (CPE)
* the 'cable monopoly' laws that are in force in many communities served by cable TV operators
* consumer acceptance of the pricing structure for new TV-delivered services. Over the air (broadcasted) TV is FREE in the US, free of taxes, usage fees.
* proprietary coding of set top boxes by cable operators and box manufacturers
* the ability to implement 'return path' interaction in rural areas that have low, or no technology infrastructure
* the competition from Internet-based content and service providers for the consumers' attention and budget
* and many other technical and business road blocks, American television content providers and operators must contend with the existing infrastructure and business models. Satellite and cable will force broadcasters to adopt interactivity or the broadcasters will become less competitive than they already are.

Interactivity with TV-related content

The least understood, Interactivity with TV related content may have most promise to alter how we watch TV over the next decade. Examples include getting more information about what is on the TV, whether sports, movies, news, or the like.

Similar (and most likely to pay the bills), is getting more information about what is being advertised, and the ability to buy it -- this is called "tcommerce" (short for "television commerce"). Partial steps in this direction are already becoming a mass phenomenon, as Web sites and mobile phone services coordinate with TV programs (note: this type of interactive TV is currently being called "participation TV" and GSN and TBS are proponents of it). This kind of multitasking is already happening on large scale -- but there is currently little or no automated support for relating that secondary interaction to what is on the TV compared to other forms of interactive TV. Others argue that this is more a "web-enhanced" television viewing than interactive TV. In the coming months and years, there will be no need to have both a computer and a TV set for interactive television as the interactive content will be built into the system via the next generation of set-top boxes. However, set-top-boxes have yet to get a strong foothold in American households as price (pay per service pricing model) and lack of interactive content have failed to justify their cost.

Many think of interactive TV primarily in terms of "one-screen" forms that involve interaction on the TV screen, using the remote control, but there is another significant form of interactive TV that makes use of Two-Screen Solutions, such as NanoGaming [] . In this case, the second screen is typically a PC (personal computer) connected to a Web site application. Web applications may be synchronized with the TV broadcast, or be regular websites that provide supplementary content to the live broadcast, either in the form of information, or as interactive game or program. Some two-screen applications allow for interaction from a mobile device (phone or PDA), that run "in synch" with the show.

Such services are sometimes called "Enhanced TV," but this term is in decline, being seen as anachronistic and misused occasionally. (Note: "Enhanced TV" originated in the mid-late 1990s as a term that some hoped would replace the umbrella term of "interactive TV" due to the negative associations "interactive TV" carried because of the way companies and the news media over-hyped its potential in the early 90's.)

Notable Two-Screen Solutions have been offered for specific popular programs by many US broadcast TV networks. Today, two-screen interactive TV is called either 2-screen (for short) or "Synchronized TV" and is widely deployed around the US by national broadcasters with the help of technology offerings from certain companies.

One-screen interactive TV generally requires special support in the set-top box, but Two-Screen Solutions, synchronized interactive TV applications generally do not, relying instead on Internet or mobile phone servers to coordinate with the TV and are most often free to the user.

Examples of Interactive TV

Among the current forms of Interactive TV are:
* BBCi
* [ ActiveVideo Networks (formerly known as ICTV)] - Creators of ActiveVideo: A network-centric interactive TV solution built on current web and television standards. The network-centric approach allows for rich multimedia interactivity and the endless possibilities of web functionality, while retaining the ability to be delivered to current set-top boxes.
*ATVEF - 'Advanced Television Enhancement Forum' is a group of companies that are set up to create HTML based TV products and services. ATVEF's work has resulted in an Enhanced Content Specification which makes it possible for developers to create their content once and have it display properly on any compliant receiver.
*MSN TV - MSN TV supplies computerless Internet access. It requires a set-top box that sells for $100 to $200, with a monthly access fee.
*ITV TECHNOLOGIES - Interactive television is a combination of television with the internet. "In enhanced TV, a standard television signal, whether broadcast, cable or satellite, goes to a receiver that is linked to the Internet by a dial-up or other connection. Overlays and picture-in-window can be used to present online info, with input from the viewer by wireless remote or keyboard." [ [ Interactive Television ] ]
* [] provider of contextually relevant content synchronized with the broadcasts on television. Currently offering coverage of NFL, NBA, NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, NHL, MLB games.

User Interaction

Interactive TV is often described by clever marketing gurus as "lean back" interaction, as users are typically relaxing in the living room environment with a remote control in one hand. This is a very simplistic definition of interactive television that is less and less descriptive of interactive television services that are in various stages of market introduction. This is in contrast to the similarly slick marketing devised descriptor of personal computer-oriented "lean forward" experience of a keyboard, mouse and monitor. This description is becoming more distracting than useful as video game users, for example, don't lean forward while they are playing video games on their television sets, a precursor to interactive TV. A more useful mechanism for categorizing the differences between PC and TV based user interaction is by measuring the distance the user is from the Device. Typically a TV viewer is "leaning back" in their sofa, using only a Remote Control as a means of interaction. While a PC user is 2ft or 3ft from his high resolution screen using a mouse and keyboard. The demands of distance, and user input devices, requires the application's look and feel to be designed differently. Thus Interactive TV applications are often designed for the "10ft user experience" while PC applications and web pages are designed for the "3ft user experience". This style of interface design rather than the "lean back or lean forward" model is what truly distinguishes Interactive TV from the web or PC. However even this mechanism is changing because there is at least one web-based service which allows you to watch internet television on a PC with a wireless remote controlFact|date=August 2008.

In the case of Two-Screen Solutions Interactive TV, the distinctions of "lean-back" and "lean-forward" interaction become more and more indistinguishable. There has been a growing proclivity to media multitasking, in which multiple media devices are used simultaneously (especially among younger viewers). This has increased interest in two-screen services, and is creating a new level of multitasking in interactive TV. In addition, video is now ubiquitous on the web, so research can now be done to see if there is anything left to the notion of "lean back" "versus" "lean forward" uses of interactive television.

For one-screen services, interactivity is supplied by the manipulation of the API of the particular software installed on a set-top box, referred to as 'middleware' due to its intermediary position in the operating environment. Software programs are broadcast to the set-top box in a 'carousel'.

On UK DTT (Freeview uses ETSI based MHEG-5), in DVB-MHP systems and for OCAP, this is a DSM-CC Object Carousel.

The set-top box can then load and execute the application. In the UK this is typically done by a viewer pressing a "trigger" button on their remote control (e.g. the red button, as in "press red").

Interactive TV Sites have the requirement to deliver interactivity directly from internet servers, and therefore need the set-top box's middleware to support some sort of TV Browser or content rendering system. Middleware examples like Liberate are based on a version of HTML/Javascript and have rendering capabilities built in, while others such as OpenTV and DVB-MHP can load microbrowsers and applications to deliver content from TV Sites.

Typically the distribution system for Standard Definition digital TV is based on the MPEG-2 specification, while High Definition distribution is likely to be based on the MPEG-4 meaning that the delivery of HD often requires a new device or set-top box.

Interactive television projects

Some interactive television projects are consumer electronics boxes which provide set-top interactivity, while other projects are supplied by the cable television companies (or multiple system operator, or MSO) as a system-wide solution. Some examples of interactive television include:

* MSOs
** Cox Communications (US)
** Time Warner (US)
** Comcast (US)
** Cablevision (US)
* Previous MSO trials or demos
** Full Service Network from Time Warner (US) - this is no longer in operation
* Consumer electronics solutions
** TiVo
** ReplayTV
** UltimateTV
** Microsoft Windows XP Media Center
* Two-Screen Solutions, or "enhanced TV" solutions
** []
** See Enhanced TV for additional examples
* Hospitality & healthcare solutions
** LodgeNet

Interactive Video and Data Services

IVDS is a wireless implementation of interactive TV, it utilizes part of the VHF TV frequency spectrum (218–219 MHz). [ [,,t=ivds&i=45519,00.asp IVDS] ]


[ DTMF-TV - Most Economical Approach to ITV]

See also

*IP over DVB
*Digital television (DTV)
*Set-top box (STB)
*Enhanced TV
*Internet television
*Two-Screen Solutions
*Miro Media Player
*Multimedia home platform (MHP)
*MHEG-5 (Multimedia Hypermedia Experts Group - Part 5)

External links

* [ The Enhanced Television Cookbook: PBS's (US Public Television) Interactive Television How to]
* [ A guide to the production techniques used for interactive television]
* [ Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein's Interactive Television Blog maintained by the University of Georgia's director of its New Media Centers Consortium interactive television project]
* [ Interactive Television Alliance]
* [ The Madison Avenue Journal: Prediction: NanoGaming Will Replace Nielsen]

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