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Execs at media confab redefine TV’s future

Execs at media confab Digital Hollywood tried Monday to bury the oft-repeated notion of television’s future 500-channel world.

“Five hundred channels will have no relevance,” Stuart Johnson, president of business and information services at Bell Atlantic Corp., said during the conference that paired Silicon Valley techies with Hollywood’s storytellers.

Instead of 500 channels, an already unthinkable number for viewers who tire of channel surfing the current 50 or so offerings, execs at the confab suggested that consumers will have one channel from which they will be able to tap into countless programming and information databases.

John Malone, Tele-Communications Inc. prexy/CEO, created the 500-channel tag a little more than a year ago when TCI announced plans to upgrade its cable system. Digital compression, the technology to move several signals over one channel, led to the notion that viewers could have as many as 500 channels via existing systems.

But as technology has changed, so has the concept.

“It’s not the right concept,” said Kay Koplovitz, USA Networks prexy/CEO. “The right one is infinite.”

Most companies vying to build the infopike now talk about a video dialtone that will work much like telephones do today. Like phones, the wire will connect viewers to a virtually limitless pool of options that can be dialed up.

“We see a one-channel or no-channel universe, where you can get what you want , when you want it,” said Dale Bennett, VP in charge of TCI’s California operations. “Instead of sitting through a few hundred cubic zirconium rings, you can go straight to the sports merchandise.”

The confab covered much of the same ground as other infopike confabs. Speakers repeated the notion that the nascent interactive multimedia industry is ready to spawn countless businesses.

“It’s kind of a one-upsmanship environment,” said Bernard J. Luskin, Philips Media Electronic Publishing prexy, who Monday was named CEO of Jones Interactive Services Inc. “You have almost insurmountable opportunity unless you focus on your business.”

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