Winners can get up to $50K, Net users can pick faves

Got an interactive TV idea? Pitch it at NATPE and you could wind up with a Hollywood development deal — and money from Microsoft.

In a sign of just how seriously new media players are taking the entertainment content business, the Internet giant will sponsor its first i-Pitch contest at the upcoming NATPE convention in New Orleans (Jan. 24-27).

The two-day event will run Tuesday and Wednesday on the NATPE convention floor in the Web Lounge theater. The 90-minute proceedings will also be video-streamed on the Web site E-poll.com so as to allow Internet users to vote for their favorite pitches.

The interactive pitch sessions are modeled on the popular Pitch Me evening session at NATPE for traditional TV projects, which is now in its fifth year.

“This is a great way to spark the development community to come up with interactive ideas,” Microsoft TV group manager Marty Behrens told Daily Variety.

After pre-screening on the first day of NATPE, Jan. 24, 15 contestants will vie for prizes from Microsoft each day. The first group of contestants will pitch original interactive ideas; the second day will be devoted to ideas for turning existing TV shows into interactive ones.

“Behind the i-Pitch initiative is the recognition on the part of Microsoft that a good idea is at the basis of interactive TV as well as of traditional TV,” Jerry Philpott, a consultant to the NATPE board on new media, told Daily Variety.

Behrens said that Microsoft will pick up costs, something in the range of $50,000, to develop prototypes for the top interactive winners. If a project then moves on to pilot stage, Microsoft may also step in with more money to develop the interactive elements of the potential show.

Judges have not yet been confirmed for the two i-Pitch sessions, but they will include top studio execs, showrunners and producers, Behrens said. There will also be a celebrity hostess for the event, but that deal is also still being worked out.

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