Interactive TV Today

by Tracy Swedlow

[itvt] is pleased to debut a weekly column on our new Web site in which the iTV Doctor, Rick Howe, and his team of interactive TV experts, will answer your most pressing questions about interactive TV. If you have a question for the iTV Doctor, email him at

Dear iTV Doctor:

We’ve seen lots of numbers about participation in interactive TV “experiences”–how many people opt in, how long they stay, what they play…And I’m not sure I believe any of it! When I want to watch TV, I want to watch TV! I don’t want to tune away from the show I’m watching to goof around with some wacky application. I mean: How REAL is this? Do viewers really WANT to interact?????

Doubting Thomas

Dear Thomas:

You may have identified the elephant in the room. One of your predecessors asked it this way: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” (Henry David Thoreau, 1854). But 155-year-old media observations notwithstanding, I forwarded your question on to Mike Bloxham, director of insight and research for Ball State University’s Center for Media Design. Here’s what Mike has to say:

Predicting future human behavior solely on the basis of current human behavior is pretty much guaranteed to leave you very wide of the mark. The impacts of countless advances in communications have been completely misinterpreted in their earliest days on exactly that basis. In every market where iTV has been rolled out the same doubts have been expressed. The question isn’t really whether or not there is some latent desire to interact with TV content, it’s more about what kind of calls to action, interface design and user
experience are more or less likely to generate responses among which audiences and with what frequency.

It will never be the case that all viewers will interact with all programs all the time. But to a large extent we already lean forward and interact with programming that moves us: we shout at the TV and jump out of our chairs during sports events; we seek to answer questions on gameshows and we vote on reality shows using the phone; and we send viral videos around via our PC’s, to name just a few relevant behaviors. Interaction with the remote will succeed–as it has in other markets–if the call to action taps into people’s motivations to view in the first place and if it gets them closer to the program. Success will be based on the impact of the creativity, the quality of the user experience and the sustainability of the business model.

Mike Bloxham
Director, Insight & Research
Center for Media Design
Ball State University

The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG’s. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, “Dr” Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.

Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at