Comcast Bets on Interactive TV
By Daisy Whitney

(Business 2.0) – Interactive TV may finally be ready for prime time, and it could be a way to wean consumers off TiVo-style commercial-skipping. The technology, which lets viewers change camera angles and shop using the remote, is entrenched in Britain, but it's been slow to take hold in the United States. A 1995 Time Warner Cable trial fell flat because of clunky set-top boxes, while satellite providers EchoStar and DirecTV offer ITV only on special channels.

Now, for the first time, a cable operator has persuaded several big-name networks to build interactivity into their regular programming: Comcast will unveil the results in a Baltimore pilot early next year. With regular remotes, HSN watchers will be able to make purchases, GSN viewers will get to play along with poker games and quiz shows, and CNN fans will be able to get more details on news. A&E Television Networks is signed on and likely to offer trivia.

Though Comcast is keeping quiet, the industry is abuzz. Not only would ITV give the cable giant an edge over satellite, but interactive ads would also command premium rates--and there's evidence that viewers will click on them. In an ongoing ITV trial by Oceanic Time Warner Cable and GSN in Hawaii--the only test yet to involve regular network programming--75 percent of viewers have played games or clicked on ads. Most important, because the features work only in real time, customers have a reason not to use digital recorders like TiVo. Says Jim Turner, VP for interactive at A&E, "Interactivity makes TV 'appointment viewing' again."