Sunday, February 25, 2007

Spy TV

The Threat of Interactive Television.

A review of Spy TV by David Burke.

Interactive television (iTV) is coming to a living room near you! No need to run out to the store to pick up anything, you can order them through your television right after you watch the commercials. In fact, by ordering certain things, the interactive television will show commercials for other products of a similar nature.

Soon, you'll be ordering all sorts of junk with ease. Smart television is an advertisers dream: capitalism millennium style.

"Television's message has always been that the need for truth, wisdom, and world peace pales by comparison with the need for a toothpaste that offers whiter teeth and fresher breath." --- Syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry

"Everything on interactive TV will be designed to get you involved like this, for as many hours as possible, and advertising will become indistinguishable from other programming. Microsoft, for example, has finished an interactive prototype of Baywatch which combines product placement with online shopping. When characters on the show win a Princess Cruise Lines holiday, viewers can hit a button and try to win their own," explains David Burke in a great new book called Spy TV.

Microsoft is positioning itself as a pioneer in the newly emerging interactive TV market. In March, 2000, Microsoft formed an alliance with NDS Group Plc, a British digital TV technology firm and subsidiary of News Corp. (owner of the Fox network). The pair of companies hope to introduce a digital set-top box to control the flow of data into your television. America Online is also going to push the iTV market with its introduction of AOL-TV.

Interactive TV is a lot more than just TV with Internet-World Wide Web-style buttons and links. It is television that monitors and tracks what you watch and purchase.

Interactive TV firms will keep demographic databases full of information for potential advertisers and corporations wishing to peddle their wares on television. "It's like [advertisers] died and went to heaven," Maggie Wildrotter, CEO of iTV pioneer Wink Communications told ZDNet news. "It's finally an opportunity for them to measure the effectiveness and pay for performance and have direct connectivity to customers."

The key to iTV is the invention of electronic programming guides (EPGs). The viewer will create a personalized EPG and control the TV set to only show the programs you want or suggest ones you may like. The EPG can auto-program your media center so you don't miss anything (heaven forbid?!?) or set off alarms about when certain shows will be presented. The EPG is similar to network "push" technology which automatically loads software updates into your local hardware.

Interactive TV is truly the embodiment of the modern television experience. Burke explains in Spy TV that "the purpose of television is to make you watch television, and here is what makes good television: It keeps you watching. It gets you hooked, gets you to cancel appointments and rush home from meetings with friends. It gets everyone in the room to stop talking and listen to what is on the screen, so they won't miss anything, especially the commercials."

"Interactive TV is not about communication," explains Burke. "It may offer email, but the primary goal is escapism, just like ordinary TV. And the only interaction most viewers will have is with the software. Like a video game, or a coin operated gambling machine, an interactive TV is designed to get you deeply involved with a machine."

Spy TV points out that advertisers will be able to track changing channels, selecting certain programs, viewing habits, browsing through interactive sites, and purchasing habits. In other words, "every click" can be tracked and recorded in a computer database. Broadcasters and advertisers will be able to target audiences with products like never before.

"The most important feature of digital interactive TV is not that you can push different buttons, but that any button you push can be recorded," says Burke. "Even if you never 'play along' with what is on the screen, just turning it on and changing the channels will produce meaningful data that somebody can use."

Advertising will be directed to only some people based on demographics and viewing habits. The television will customize itself to fit your profile. Everything you do on the iTV will cause the unit to react and respond. "Your TV will customize and personalize itself to your desires," explains Burke. "It will learn to anticipate them and help you choose hours of programming. As you sit in your living room, relaxing, letting go, a world of information and convenience is going to open."

Spy TV is book ahead of its time. The book points out the advantages of iTV such as advanced E-commerce and fast picture-based access. There is also, however, issues surrounding a loss of personal privacy and the intense targeting of children with iTV techniques. Your child's favorite TV characters could start personally selling corporate products or speak during the commercial break: "Gosh [insert child's name here], I sure like watching TV with you." Interactive TV opens up your home to the constant intrusion of corporate sponsors and broadcast networks.

"TV has always sought to keep its audience living in a small, artificial world, no more than ten feet from their sets. We have all been encouraged to spend evenings, weekends and family holidays with simulated friends and their vicarious thrills," states Burke.

There is no doubt that television is a powerful advertising tool, now, without any interactivity. With the new waves of technology flowing in with iTV, the television may become more influential than ever in our households. Interactive TV will be a global phenomenon. North America, Europe, Australia, South America, Africa, and Asia are all potential markets for this new "revolution." As Spy TV states in its title page, if this is a "digital revolution," just who or what is being overthrown?

A modern idiom states that "the revolution will be televised." Although maybe this revolution should be boycotted.

Click here for original article. Published on this blog with permission from Ron Kaufman.

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