Blowing a fuse in the search for interactivity

Digital TV may have arrived but all I can get are linear telecast programmes – much of the same terrestrial fare – despite subscribing to SkyDigital’s 140-channel package.

Having seen the presentation for the OpenTV interactive services (scheduled to launch in the spring but unlikely to be rolled out beyond selective testing before the autumn) I can only say I expect to remain interactively starved.

Leaving aside the fact that OpenTV is a closed proprietary system built by Sun Microsystems, which has ignored the global move to open standard Internet protocols (IP), it’s also unimpressive.

Suppliers which signed up for the service include HSBC Midland for home banking – not a great surprise given that HSBC is one of the four shareholders, along with BSkyB, BT and Matsushita. Other suppliers include Tesco and Sainsbury’s (but just try getting your groceries delivered nationwide), Iceland and Dixons. Now, there’s a line-up to make your mouth water.

The indifferent quality of the line-up might just have something to do with the fact that suppliers have to build bespoke services for the non-IP OpenTV medium. And the revelation that OpenTV expects a cut of between 15 and 20 per cent of sales, depending on volume.

At a time when the e-commerce market is predicted to soar to $900bn (545bn) by 2002 from an estimated $135bn (82bn) this year (Forrester Research), you think OpenTV might have looked at the inventory. Less is definitely not more.

The Web is alive with e-commerce operators offering a range of goods and services which match everyday expectations. Lesson one in interactive marketing is that inventory rules; big is better. Aggregated services is what the punter wants – take a look at your average portal site.

For OpenTV to have turned its back on IP is a serious mistake. ONdigital, albeit later, will be using IP. So are the digital cable operators launching this year.

But interactivity is not just about shopping. The ordinary armchair viewer can look forward to OpenTV’s added-value interactive sports services giving him or her all the team details, statistics, replays and camera angles. As an England rugby supporter it would have been very impressive to have watched us lose to Wales from every angle.

Personally, I’d prefer to shop.

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