There is much talk of interactive television becoming the wave of the future, but the concept seems to be rapidly sneaking into the present.
Many media companies are working hard to develop their communication technologies to offer exciting new services incorporating television, cable and telephone lines.
One rudimentary type of interactive service already in operation is pay-per-view, where viewers can choose to have their television sets pick up movies or sporting events that are offered at specific times by cable programmers. With this system, viewers usually have to wait at least 15 minutes for a movie to begin.
Knowing that audiences seek instant gratification, Bell Atlantic is now testing a service where a selected movie can be transmitted via phone lines in well under five minutes. Users simply call a number with a touch-tone phone hooked up to their TV sets, enter an ID number for the desired program and wait for it to start. Even in a household where there is only one phone line, the process does not interfere with normal phone use.
Discovery Communications is making further advances in interactive television. Its latest project is Your Choice TV, which allows viewers to select and watch any previously aired show without having to depend on the networks to broadcast it as a rerun.
This video-on-demand service, which is being tested, will increase viewing options and replace the need to set VCRs to tape favorite programs.
Companies are also developing services that allow viewers to truly interact with on-screen activity.
For example, those who enjoy yelling out answers while watching game shows will soon be able to participate, using a system such as the Interactive Network control unit.
The Interactive Network is already active in parts of California and Chicago.
To compete for prizes against other contestants in shows such as “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” players can hook up their units to their telephone lines and then call an I.N. central computer, which later reports the results of the competition via the players’ TV screens.
The broadcast of the game show uses lockouts so viewers cannot cheat by waiting for the answers to be announced on the air.
For $299, people receive the control unit and six months of game playing. Normal service is $15 a month; competing for prizes costs $10 extra a month. Zing Systems offers a similar service for $125 a year.