INI lines up interactive supporters

Interactive Network Inc. has lined up NBC, IBM, Cablevision Systems and two large newspaper chains to support its interactive services under a special spectrum allocated by the Federal Communications Commission.

Last January, the FCC set apart a band of the broadcast spectrum for so-called Interactive Videoand Data Services. The agency is now taking applications for two licenses in initially nine cities. Through a lottery, the winners will have five years to construct a service that reaches half the market area.

INI hopes to hook up with licensees to offer its own interactive service, which currently consists of a hand-held receiverequipped with a small screen. INI subscribers play along with a number of televised games, including pro football, by receiving signals from the company’s headquarters via a tiny unused portion of the TV broadcast channel.

Both NBC, a unit of General Electric Co., and Cablevision Systems Corp. are FCC applicants for markets where they own properties. Also, both are INI investors.

NBC has its fingers in a host of technology investments. While it is the largest shareholder, after INI CEO David Lockton, with 14.1%, the broadcaster is also pursuing high-definition-TV, and providing programming to the PC with IBM.

According to Lockton, if either NBC or Cablevision wins a license, they would support his company’s efforts. More significant is the interest of Gannett Co. and Tribune Co. newspapers, which have indicated they want to create information services.

Analysts look to the newspapers to experiment with advertising and tailored editions. Lockton previewed a device that when hooked to INI’s hand-held unit could link up with a printer for hard copies.

But it is unclear just what IVDS’s future is. The FCC may not be able to conduct its lottery until next year because of legal delays.

“The big question is how quickly it can come to market?” said Gary Arlen, an industry consultant. The worry is that both cable and the phone companies may come to market with competing services before IVDS is up and running.

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