ITV and the Internet: Battle for the Living Room

I recently debated interactive television (iTV) with a colleague who believes iTV is more analogous to traditional television than to the Internet. I couldn’t disagree more. I was pleased to see my perspective confirmed on many levels at the recent National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) conference in New Orleans.

ITV is a broad, all-encompassing catchphrase for many applications and services on a television-based platform. On a macro level, iTV can be broken down into basic subgroups: VOD; DVR; enhanced TV (think two-screen synchronous application or flashing icon on the screen for interaction); interactive program guide (IPG); and addressability.

Without question, VOD and DVRs received the most attention at the show. In the near term, these platforms represent the greatest potential reward for cable operators: reduced churn for satellite providers and revenue via subscription VOD and/or pay per view. They’re also the greatest immediate threat for advertisers and marketers: on-demand viewing that isn’t ad-supported, coupled with DVR’s ad-skipping technologies.

Below, some of the other hot topics discussed. You, too, may find many analogies between the iTV and Internet industries.


As with any nascent, decentralized industry, a number of competing platforms and services are being developed that are operator-specific (translation: publisher specific). This is true of the top six cable operators, as well as the satellite providers. Let’s focus on the cable industry, as it represents the majority of U.S. households.

OpenCable is an initiative of CableLabs’ Advanced Platforms and Services group. OpenCable will provide a set of industry standards to help foster interactive capabilities via cable. Its three primary objectives are: to define the next-generation consumer device; to encourage supplier competition; and to create a retail hardware platform. As such, the mission is both hard- and software based.

The OpenCable Applications Platform (OCAP) is the software side of the equation. It provides a common platform across which interactive services can be deployed. If the Internet community had only done something like this back in 1996 to standardize offerings across publishers, our evolution may have been slightly different.

Database Marketing/Segmentation

Understanding its market is no longer one size fits all, cable operators want to identify actionable market segments. The primary challenge is to maintain a level of privacy that won’t alarm the public and will conform to current privacy policies.

That said, a tremendous opportunity exists to utilize non-personally identifiable information to create clusters of subscriber households. We’re speaking with many of our clients about utilizing some of the new cable insertion technology to target different ad messages to different ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Targeting the right person, with the right message, at the right time, in the right place. Isn’t that the Internet’s claim to fame?

Other Conference Sessions

  • Inside the Broadband Marketplace — Quickening the Pace

  • 2004 — This is Interactive’s Year!
  • Bit o’ Money: VoIP, Cable’s Sweetest New Fiber-Rich Offering
  • Cable’s Broadband Home

Getting a sense of the tremendous overlap between cable and the Internet? As the cable industry matures and we head toward the inevitable convergence of technologies and platforms, that more mature industry is enduring some of the same growing pains we did. Convergence needn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition. The Internet and iTV can peacefully coexist.

There’s a battle brewing for control of your living room. Don’t bet against the cable industry. It owns the last mile into nearly 70 percent of U.S. homes, a powerful position to be in.

Do you see similarities between iTV and the Internet? Will consumers always view TV as a passive, rather than (inter)active, experience? Drop me a note.

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