MuchMusic to test SMS-based programming

TORONTO — Canadian wireless carriers hope to build the market for short message service by using it as a interactive tool to connect television viewers with a popular music channel.

Ericsson Canada Inc. Tuesday said it was

working with Toronto-based Chum Television and systems provider MyThum Interactive Inc. to create a short message service (SMS) platform that will channel live-to-air opinions, commentary and questions to MuchTakeOver, a program on Chum’s MuchMusic station. MyThum’s software will provide a messaging platform for those calling into the station and a data feed for the broadcasters at Chum to capture the messages as they are sent in to the station and then display them in real time. Ericsson is helping finance the initiative and will be providing support services. The SMS feature will be launched on the show next month.

Canadian SMS adoption has been slow to take off, in part because the North American market is fragmented between GSM and CDMA, two competing wireless networks. Europe, in contrast, has built on a legacy of GSM networks for several years. In Canada, GSM is the provenance of Rogers AT&T Wireless and Microcell, while Bell Mobility and Telus deliver services over CDMA.

Agreements between the four major carriers to allow for interoperable messaging were announced at the Communications 2001 conference, and that’s helped dramatically, said David Neale, vice-president of new product development at Rogers AT&T Wireless. Neale said companies like Rogers began eyeing the market in 1998 but were slow to push interoperability. “”If you look back on it, (waiting) was one of the dumbest things we did,”” he said.

Even though Canada’s use of SMS pales in comparison to Europe, Neale said carriers have high hopes for the revenue-generating potential of the technology, but only if the public becomes more aware of it. That’s why bringing the technology to a television program could help promote it to the all-important youth demographic, he added.

Chum, not the carriers, will determine the pricing structure for the SMS calls sent to the TV show, but nothing has been decided yet. Roma Khanna, vice-president of Chum Interactive, said it would take time before a premium price could be put on such a service. “”There’s no point in saying this call costs a quarter, this one’s a dollar, this one is free,”” she said. “”Once we’ve gotten past the ‘Text what?’ we’ll be able to mix it up a bit in terms of pricing.””

SMS may have been more popular in Europe because local calls over land lines aren’t necessarily free, and cell phone calls might be cheaper. However Michael Carter, president of MyThum Interactive, said customers were willing to pay a premium for SMS if they saw value in the transaction. A television show could be an ideal venue. “”It takes it from being a spectator sport to something that people can get involved with,”” he said.

Broadcasters have already made innovative use of SMS overseas, said Ericsson Canada president Mark Henderson. The technology has increased viewership on Australia’s Channel 5 by 300 per cent during some time slots, he said. In Norway, said Carter, one music station has completely automated its programming, allowing viewers to vote for the next video to be played through SMS.

Khanna said Chum got an early taste of the technology’s potential when it set up a poll through SMS on its CP24 channel during the Toronto mayoral race late last year. More than 1,700 messages came in during the broadcast of a debate, she said.

Chum may bring SMS to its Speaker’s Corner program on CityTV following its use on MuchTakeOver, Khanna added.

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