Behind the red button

Brits lead pack of nominees in first Intl. Interactive TV Acad kudo countdown

LONDON — European broadcasters, especially the Brits, are driving interactive television services.

This point is emphasized by the nominations list for the first Interactive International Emmys, to be awarded in Cannes on April 5.

Of the 12 nominees, eight hail from Blighty, where digital TV is available in between 60%-70% of households. The remaining noms are from Germany, Denmark, France and South Korea.

“We’ve been hoping to do something for a long time to recognize interactivity,” explains Bruce Paisner, president and CEO of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “The International Emmy Awards categories follow worldwide industry trends. Having been at the forefront of changes in the industry for over 30 years, we make it a point to recognize benchmarks as new sectors experience significant growth.”

In the U.K., iTV services have been up and running since 1999, following the launch of Blighty’s first digital television platforms: Sky Digital and the defunct On Digital, backed by ITV.

As far as iTV services go, Sky and the BBC are the pacesetters. Sky News Active, nominated in the TV service category, was launched in 1999, initially as a sports service. A full news service rolled out a year later.

“America has a lot to teach us in terms of the Internet and podcasting, but in mobile and interactivity we’re far ahead of them, says Steve Bennedik, editor of Sky News Active. “The U.K. can be very proud of what we’re providing.”

Today, Sky’s 8 million subscribers can access eight Sky News Active video streams 24/7 by pressing the red button on their remotes.

The service may not be as fast as broadband, but it is certainly comprehensive and is a must for news junkies who, literally, want to get more information behind the day’s headlines.

“More than 30% of Sky News viewers use Sky News Active,” claims Bennedik. “The Brits have always been good at innovative technology and Sky is at the forefront of these developments.

“Nowadays we can deliver Sky News Active to many different platforms including broadband and mobile, but I think this kind of red-button technology is very useful. Provided it’s used in the right environment, it will continue to thrive.”

BSkyB has another entry in the interactive TV service category, for Sky Vegas Live, a casino-style betting game and already profitable for the paybox.

Of the £182 million ($309 million) Sky earned from interactive revenues in the six months to December 2005, £136 million ($231 million) was generated via betting.

The BBC launched iTV in 2001. Coverage of that summer’s Wimbledon tennis tournament gave Sky’s digital viewers the opportunity to select the match of their choice.

Since then, iTV has mushroomed at the BBC. Last year there were 190 different interactive BBC program services, including “How to Sleep Better.”

The series was a documentary dispensing practical advice on getting a good night’s shut-eye and is nominated for an Emmy for interactive program.

Can iTV applications help drive program sales? BBC Worldwide deputy CEO Mike Phillips says yes.

“At the end of the day it all comes down to how much our clients are prepared to pay, but these ancillary services are becoming increasingly important. It’s early, but they represent the future.”

Meanwhile, Emmy topper Paisner predicts these new awards are here to stay, but anticipates that the British stranglehold on the competition will lessen in the years ahead.

“There is great interactive television activity around the world, and as our competition gets better known we will have more entries and therefore more diversity of nominees,” he says. “This is only the first year.”