NEW YORK — Need an update from last week’s “Homicide”? Want a recipe from a cooking segment on “Today”? NBC can provide it to you beginning in August through a linkup with interactive TV service Wink Communications.
The mere mention of interactive television may lead many to cringe, since media companies have been burned by false promises for the overhyped and underwhelming applications presented so far. But the new, essentially low-tech version, modestly dubbed “enhanced broadcasting,” appears to overcome many stumbling blocks because it requires no special hardware, no coin from consumers, and offers interactivity directly onscreen, not through a separate PC or other device.
Remote control access
Instead, viewers respond to an onscreen logo prompt by using the arrow keys on traditional remote controls to tap interactive elements embedded in a program.
NBC is the first of five broadcast and cable networks to commit to the new service, being rolled out to cable households in time for the fall TV season, with 800,000 households spread among 20 systems owned by top MSOs expected by year-end. At least four more programmers are expected to join NBC, while CNN, Court TV and the Weather Channel are developing “content,” including local info from related Web sites.
NBC expects to add two or three interactive elements to five or six hours of programming per week, with sports, news and information, and serial dramas likely to get the treatment.
Industry analysts say the Wink system offers a more accessible version of the technology than previous tries. “It’s the poor man’s interactive TV,” said Gary Arlen, an industry consultant. “Wink has had a very thoughtful approach to what interactive TV should look like,” mirroring Microsoft Corp.’s plans for its WeB TV system.
Cable operators and set-top converter box manufacturers will pay to license software from the Alameda, Calif., company, that will enable advanced analog or digital set-top boxes to receive signals, transmitted much like closed captioning on a special bandwith of the TV signal. There are 3 million such boxes in cable homes, with 10 million expected by the end of 1998, and Wink claims agreements to offer its service to four million by that date.
The success of Wink’s plan is dependent on securing both new cable systems willing to transmit the signals and additional programmers to offer them. And it’s unclear how widely viewers will use the services once they are offered.