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Interactive TV

The Web and the Internet are the latest technologies to be harnessed by
companies trying to develop interactive television. This paper reviews the
efforts of technology companies and broadcasters to combine television and the
Web in their products and activities, and how users are already using them both
at home. It reviews some research on the way that TV and the PC/Internet are
used at home, and suggests some way that the Web could be integrated with
television use. Unlike earlier interactive television projects, where the
innovation was largely conducted behind closed doors and among consortia of
companies, the innovation environment in which Web-based interactive television
is being developed includes a huge number of existing users, technology and
content suppliers who play an active role the innovation process. The concept of
social learning is suggested as a area of development of tools for understand
the process of technical, social and cultural change around innovation of this
sort. In particular the idea of poles of attraction is introduced to understand
why a huge numbers of supply side players and users are orienting towards the
Internet as a possible solution to interactive television. 1. Introduction Of
all the visions of the future of television (note 1), interactive television (i-TV)
is perhaps the most radical and powerful. In this vision the ubiquitous
television set will change from being a device to watch television shows or
films into a home terminal for access to and interaction with networked
interactive technology, programmes and services. The possibilities and benefits
of the technology seem self-evident, if only they can be made to work
effectively and at a modest price. Many times we have been told to expect
interactive television any day now. (note 2) However, after millions of dollars
spent, and many pilots and service closures, most of us are still no closer to
having interactive television than a few hundred searchable teletext pages, and
some phone-in TV shows. In the efforts to create i-TV, numerous applications and
technologies have been tried, with companies attracted by the possibilities of
each new generation of technology, and responding to the continuous pressure to
develop new products, be they technologies, services or programmes in order to
maintain their share of consumer spending. The explosion of the Internet and Web
is a new pole of attraction for interactive television developers that seems to
solve many of the problems and uncertainties of earlier systems: all of a sudden
the technologies, content, users and uses of interactive services are there and
proving very successful, all that needs to be done it integrate them into
television. For the analyst of new innovations in television, three issues arise
as companies are attracted to the Internet and the Web as a solution to
interactive television. 1. Instead of being controlled by a small number of
corporate players, the technology and service of the Web and Internet are in the
public domain, and changing fast. The innovation environment is diverse,
heterogeneous, and involves a multitude of companies and most importantly users
in shaping the technology and services, which makes management of innovation
more complex and give the market a much stronger voice. 2. There is major
uncertainty over the relevance of Web-style interactivity to the use of
television. Many commentators believe that content and services on the Internet
or designed for the PC terminal may not be relevant for many users of the
television, while others bet on the explosion of e-commerce through TV Web
terminals. 3. The television is no longer the only window for interactive
services to the home. The PC is an increasingly common alternative, and is a
more flexible and open platform or interactive services. The cheap web set-top
box may restrict innovation and fix service and uses in a way that is
frustrating to end users and service providers alike. What is more, there is an
emerging paradigm in the technology industry of multiple ‘low profile’ terminals
for interactive services. This could turn investment and attention away from
both the PC and the television. What links these issues is the importance of the
end users as active players in the innovation-diffusion process. It was end- and
intermediate-users adopting the Internet and Web that attracted interactive
television developers, and it is these users who are now directly involved in
the innovation process. This paper uses social learning (S?rensen 1996) as an
analytic framework of socio-technical change that includes an integration of end
users in the innovation and diffusion process. Social learning goes beyond the
development and diffusion of technology and content to include the creation of
new knowledge, regulations, expectations, institutions and cultural norms. In
particular it focuses on the role of users in innovation, including the
development of user knowledge and practices, and the interaction between users
and producers. In this process different actors (users and producers) orient to
poles of attraction, including utopian visions, projects and trials,
technologies, regulations, user groups, markets, uses, or emerging cultural
norms, all of which may crystallise into real products and institutions or
disappear to be replaced by a new ones. The process of creation, diffusion and
use of new technology and content is not controlled by those innovating the
products. Users and producers of technology and content related to television
and new media slowly appropriate and shape each other’s products and patterns of
use, learning from each other over a protracted period of time. Previous
examples that provide useful parallels to interactive television are the
telephone and videotext. Both are network systems which changed as people began
to use them, and found how they could be useful in ways that the developers had
originally not considered as important. In interactive TV, the Television has
always been the dominant pole of attraction for both the producers and users,
but only industry was interested in interactive technologies. Industry therefore
drove innovation independently of any need or desire of potential users. Now the
Internet has emerged, and it is pole of attraction shared by users and
producers: the innovation process now is shaped strongly by the market. One
outcome is a slow change from early models of technology and content based
around individual use of media to one that integrates the existing collective
use of media and the social practices that surround media products and
technologies in everyday use. At the same time, users are altering their
everyday practices of media and technology use with the new systems that are
currently available, changing the possible market for new products almost before
they have a chance to come to that market. This can be illustrated this by
looking at evidence of the first few years of the co-existence and evolution of
TV and the Web, covering attempts to integrate them technically, and find
synergies between them, from the perspective of technology companies,
broadcasters and end users. Looking to the future, this article reviews
qualitative research on how people actually watch and use television, and some
experiences from current use of the interactive material on computers. Combined
with reports of interactive television trials, it is possible to illustrate the
rich use of both traditional and newer interactive media in the home. We can
then more critically approach the uncertainly over the relationship between the
Web and television. Fortunately for the optimists, the Web is not static –
developments of services and content that reflect the way television is used at
home for could make the Web and TV marriage a success. However in the long run
through a slow process of social learning we can see interactive television
developing into a richer medium that either the Web or TV offers today, but one
that is far from the homogeneous television system of today. 1.1 The Wild World
Web – innovation in a open environment Most of the previous attempts to make
interactive services for the home have had to start nearly from scratch, and
concentrate on creating large-scale technical systems. The television has seemed
the most obvious terminal to use as the display. In general, developers worked
with technologies and services that, prior to roll-out, were not available to
users. They tried to create ready-made systems that could be delivered fully
functioning to the public. In general they were able to develop the systems
without involving the end users, or at least without them being any more active
in the innovation process than as subjects of research or controlled trials.

Intermediate users, such as service providers (retailers, information providers,
banks, and publishers) who could be persuaded to share in the technology based
vision were generally involved in a partnership and exclusive manner. However
there is a problem facing developers of these network systems such as
interactive television. While the technology can be made to work in the lab,
these systems depend on building a critical mass of users (e.g. Rogers 1995 p.

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313, Schneider 1991) among many others), and on the content and uses of the
system. These non-technical elements are much more difficult and expensive to
develop from scratch, and to a large extent out of the control of developers,
especially when user participation is voluntary.(Note 3) One way to get round
this, is to appropriate or modify an existing and established set of content,
technologies and uses and users, and try and dominate the market, or improve
that service or technology or extend its use to new users. The idea behind
interactive television can be seen as an attempt to appropriate the mass market
of television users and the existing infrastructure of television sets in homes.

With the rise of the Internet and the Web as mass market interactive
technologies and systems, it would seem an obvious choice for i-TV developers to
try and use this as a resource for creating i-TV. In many ways it reduces
uncertainty and costs associated with designing a system from scratch. However,
following this path this completely changes the innovation environment and
process. Previous projects were dominated, if not completely controlled, by a
small smaller of industrial and government players. The innovation process could
be analysed as the interaction between corporate actors, and the individuals
working in them. However, the Internet and the Web have evolved and continue to
develop in a very different manner. End users and a multitude of intermediate
user firms and technology firms have been responsible their development. Many
different uses have been established and a huge variety of content exists. There
is incredible dynamism in the innovation process, with competition between many
technology companies and network service providers. This alternative innovation
environment needs a different approach to managing innovation, and the marketing
of interactive television. It also requires an analytic approach that can
account for the large numbers of actors, especially the end users in shaping the
technology, content and its uses. 1.2 The Web and Television ? an uncertain
marriage There is no guarantee that a marriage of television and the Internet
would be a happy and prosperous one. There is major uncertainty over the
relevance of Web-style interactivity to the use of television. Most simply it is
the following: the television is a collectively consumed medium, viewed’passively’ and from a distance, sitting in a comfortable chair. In contrast,
the Web and computer-based interactive products demand a high level of
engagement and interaction with the content, and are used by individuals sitting
close to a computer screen. These are thus incompatible uses, technologies and
content. While there are strong arguments for this position, it would be naive
to accept it without further investigation, especially in the light of existing
early-adopter uptake of Web on TV products, and other trials of interactive
television. Another factor has also complicated the vision of interactive
television. There is now an alternative to the TV as the terminal to the home,
the PC. I-TV developers may get a free user network and content, but with it
comes competition from the PC, the expectations of existing users, and uses and
content developed around the PC not the TV. Many people have both television and
computers at home. Does it make sense to develop the television as an
interactive terminal, even if there is still a huge number of PC non-owners or
users who might use it. These uncertainties, and the on-going process of
innovation that accompanies the working out of the answer between the market or
users, and the various players of the supply industries, is an important example
of complex socio-technical change that needs addressed. 2 The Struggle To Make
Television Interactive Interactive television should not be defined as a
particular technical or information system : it is a term that has been
appropriated and rejected by many of the players trying to change television,
and could be applied to many widely different systems. I define interactive
television as bringing possibilities of interactive multimedia technology to
Television. It is therefore crucial to understand Television to understand what
interactive television might be. Television is not just a technical system or a
series of programmes. It must be considered as a major business, and placed it
in a wider technical and social context. Television is also a mass market and
cross-society phenomenon, almost everyone watches TV, and it is the sheer reach
of the medium that makes the integration of new technology into Television a
major issue. Television is central to most people’s domestic life, and to our
cultural, social, political and consumer awareness. In other words, ‘television
is everyday life’ (Silverstone 1994). Most people in the developed world, and
increasingly in developing countries, rely on television as a primary source of
global news, of entertainment, of political awareness, product and cultural
knowledge, and a resource to construct and reflect self-identity. It is also
embedded in the cultural and political (Williams 1990 (first pub. 1975)):
national and now global culture would be very different and may not exist
without television in its current form. Television is also an important
industry, a huge money earner, and a controversial business that challenges
political and cultural norms as is becomes more commercial and international.

Interactive television may involve changing television in one or all its
aspects. Changes in technology that are worth their investment will certainly
run in parallel with changes in the industry, use, content and regulation. The
social shaping approach indicates that attempts to create interactive television
systems are the result of the interaction of these factors, including commercial
interests, competing products, regulation, developing user needs etc (MacKenzie
and Wajcman 1985; Williams and Edge 1996), as well as the invention of new
technology. Successful i-TV projects will be the ones that take advantage of the
embedded nature of technology, however much the most technically sophisticated
or creatively daring ones may inspire us. 2.1 A brief history of i-TV Many
attempts have been made to develop ‘interactive’ television (Carey 1996). These
have been undertaken around particular poles of attraction that provided the
motivation for experimentation and change ? sometimes the technology has been
the attraction, sometimes the content, and sometimes the users and consumers.

These poles of attraction have generally only been of concern for small groups
of technology and infrastructure companies and, on occasion governments wanting
to develop industry or infrastructure. The earliest TV systems were two-way
communications devices; after the broadcasting model was established, systems
such as QUBE in the 1970s used cable systems to provide interactive services
involving home audiences, but failed to offer sufficient return on investment
(Carey, 1996 #184). The 1980s saw the development of videotext, either broadcast
or via a telephone modem, around a model of information searching and browsing.

In the 1990s many expensive proprietary interactive television projects were set
up, or at least publicised, by technology and network companies anxious to
realise long standing science fiction dreams, bolster share prices and generate
new revenue streams. Although many of these projects may have ‘failed’, they
gave birth to huge numbers of spin-off sons and daughters: media and technology
products and formats, business opportunities, engineering and business knowledge
and experienced personnel. In addition, much was learned from these trials and
services, not least that the services, content and the audience/users are the
key factors and these need more that just vast amounts of cash to develop. In
the last years of the 1990s, the Internet, and more particularly, World Wide Web
content, have emerged to offer a way of providing many i-TV services more easily
and cheaply than some of the more technology heavy and commercially integrated
systems. In the same way as earlier technologies were grasped upon to provide
interactive television, the Web and Internet became one of the poles of
attraction for system and business development.


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