Enhanced TV pairs e-commerce with digital cable

TORONTO — An interactive television application may allow consumers to substitute their PC’s mouse for a remote control to make electronic purchases.

Rogers Cable Monday announced it would bring Enhanced TV to its Canadian digital cable subscribers on CNN, CNN Headline News and CNBC. Enhanced TV will also be provided through CHUM Television, CFMT Television and SportsNet. The service, which will be delivered free of charge to subscribers, was developed three years ago by Alameda, Calif.-based Wink Communications Inc.

Enhanced TV takes the form of an icon that sits in the corner of a screen on programs that have developed content for the service. Viewers would use their remote control to “click” on the icon and see a menu pop up offering them additional information or the ability to make purchases.

In a demonstration, CHUM Television president Jay Switzer showed a Lenny Kravitz concert on a large screen equipped with the Enhanced TV’s interactive “I” logo. The subsequent menu offered Kravitz’s entire CD collection, and the ability to scroll through song titles from specific CDs, followed by the option to purchase the CD. Instead of entering in credit card numbers each time, the service uses an e-wallet whereby name, address, credit card information is set up through a set-top box and relayed electronically to participating retailers when purchases are made.

Switzer said the company’s music stations, including Much Music, would debut the service in the next 60 days, along with CityTV and CP24. “We want to see the digital platform expand,” he said. “We know that by reaching them this way will form a closer relationship with the viewer without, frankly, having them pay any more.”

Besides e-commerce, Enhanced TV programs can offer viewers the ability to get specific information to suit their needs, said Michael Lee, vice-president of product development at Rogers Cable Inc. “If you turn on the weather, for example, it’s almost never at the point where they’re giving you the local weather,” he said, whereas an Enhanced TV menu would potentially offer views a way of scrolling over to forecasts for their area. “It’s going to give more convenience and control over to the viewer.”

Switzer said it was the company would likely keep content for news programs informational, rather than offering purchasing opportunities during a broadcast, though specific guidelines have not been developed. “We haven’t entered into that level of discussion yet,” he said.

Lee said there was no hard data on how many U.S. viewers have used the technology to make purchases since Enhanced TV was introduced there, though Wink has managed to sign distribution agreements to get the service into six million households by the end of the year. “Because it uses the remote control to use it, the learning curve is very low,” he said.

Rogers Cable president John Tory called the service a boon for advertisers, who would be able to launch campaigns similar to what banner advertisers allow on Web sites today. Molson Canada, for example, will showed a “work in progress” whereby viewers could learn more about one of its sports events, including the ability to purchase tickets. “We think this is the future,” said Jo-Ann McArthur, president of Molstar Sports & Entertainment. “We wanted to be involved at the start.”

L’Oreal Canada is also developing an interactive ad with Rogers, Tory said.

Enhanced TV will also be available on programs from TBS, NBC, CBS and Fox.

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