IPTV touted for delivering interactive TV future

Imagine being able to change the viewing angle of a televised hockey game using a keypad. Or how about being able to vote on a television game show using your TV set? Or better yet use your television to play a broadcast game with other players from across the globe.

It’s called interactive TV (ITV) or Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), a technology born in the late 1990s that allows users to interact with television content as they use it. The latest version of the technology marries broadcast TV and the Web according to Marc Goodchild, the former head of the British Broadcasting Corporation Children interactive and on-demand  department executive who left the BBC to become an independent cross-platform consultant.

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“With IPTV, viewers are no longer a mere passive audience. They become active participants to the content generation,” he told ITBusiness.ca yesterday following his talk at INplay Toronto, a series of workshops and discussions on the art and business of using interactive media to provide content aimed at children. INplay was produced by Interactive Ontario.

As advertisement-zapping technologies such as video on demand (VOD) and set-top digital video recorders (DVRs) continue to gain mainstream popularity and provide viewers the alternative to tune out TV commercials, IPTV could provide broadcasters a way to regain lost viewership and shrinking profits.

In his talk entitled The Truth About Convergence, Goodchild said IPTV is already being used in Europe by such stations as BBC’s Red Button and Sky+. These stations are similar to Rogers on Demand in Canada, where viewers have access to isolated live areas such as icons and text on their TV screens. With the use of devices such as a keypad, keyboard remote control or mouse, viewers control features such as fast forward, rewind, or pre-record telecasts. Canadian provides such as Telus Corp. and Bell Canada offer IPTV services. Telus dubs its service Optik TV, and Bell’s is named Fibe TV.

But Goodchild said IPTV can go much further in the very near future. “We’re still in the early days of the technology but real interaction with content can arrive as early as next year if broadcasters and producers embrace the technology.”

He said with enhanced entertainment features and content, broadcasters can develop a new revenue model for the industry. “Imagine online game developers creating a new game genre on TV that you can play as well as watch,” he said.

The idea is not far fetched at all, according to Anne Ferttita, senior manager for AMD’s Changing the Game Institute. Changing the Game is an initiative of the chip maker which aims to encourage children to take up technology studies by teaching them how to create computer games at an early age.

“The lines are blurring between games, online and television content,” she said.

Ferttita believes it will not be a big stretch to get people to “use their TV like computers and demand what content they want to view.”

Ferttita herself uses a device which she bought a Best Buy that enables her to get Internet access on her TV. “It’s like a cheaper version of Google TV. Whenever something on the TV intrigues me, I can use the keyboard to open up a smaller screen on the TV and search the Web for that topic,” she said.

It’s this kind of instant interaction which could drive people to the IPTV envisioned by Goodchild, she said.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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