Interactive TV The Web and the Internet are the latest technologies to be harnessed by companies trying to develop interactive television. This paper reviews the efforts of technology companies and broadcasters to combine television and the Web in their products and activities, and how users are already using them both at home. It reviews some research on the way that TV and the PC/Internet are used at home, and suggests some way that the Web could be integrated with television use. Unlike earlier interactive television projects, where the innovation was largely conducted behind closed doors and among consortia of companies, the innovation environment in which Web-based interactive television is being developed includes a huge number of existing users, technology and content suppliers who play an active role the innovation process. The concept of social learning is suggested as a area of development of tools for understand the process of technical, social and cultural change around innovation of this sort.
In particular the idea of poles of attraction is introduced to understand why a huge numbers of supply side players and users are orienting towards the Internet as a possible solution to interactive television. 1. Introduction Of all the visions of the future of television (note 1), interactive television (i-TV) is perhaps the most radical and powerful. In this vision the ubiquitous television set will change from being a device to watch television shows or films into a home terminal for access to and interaction with networked interactive technology, programmes and services. The possibilities and benefits of the technology seem self-evident, if only they can be made to work effectively and at a modest price. Many times we have been told to expect interactive television any day now.
(note 2) However, after millions of dollars spent, and many pilots and service closures, most of us are still no closer to having interactive television than a few hundred searchable teletext pages, and some phone-in TV shows. In the efforts to create i-TV, numerous applications and technologies have been tried, with companies attracted by the possibilities of each new generation of technology, and responding to the continuous pressure to develop new products, be they technologies, services or programmes in order to maintain their share of consumer spending. The explosion of the Internet and Web is a new pole of attraction for interactive television developers that seems to solve many of the problems and uncertainties of earlier systems: all of a sudden the technologies, content, users and uses of interactive services are there and proving very successful, all that needs to be done it integrate them into television. For the analyst of new innovations in television, three issues arise as companies are attracted to the Internet and the Web as a solution to interactive television. 1. Instead of being controlled by a small number of corporate players, the technology and service of the Web and Internet are in the public domain, and changing fast.
The innovation environment is diverse, heterogeneous, and involves a multitude of companies and most importantly users in shaping the technology and services, which makes management of innovation more complex and give the market a much stronger voice. 2. There is major uncertainty over the relevance of Web-style interactivity to the use of television. Many commentators believe that content and services on the Internet or designed for the PC terminal may not be relevant for many users of the television, while others bet on the explosion of e-commerce through TV Web terminals. 3.
The television is no longer the only window for interactive services to the home. The PC is an increasingly common alternative, and is a more flexible and open platform or interactive services. The cheap web set-top box may restrict innovation and fix service and uses in a way that is frustrating to end users and service providers alike. What is more, there is an emerging paradigm in the technology industry of multiple ‘low profile’ terminals for interactive services. This could turn investment and attention away from both the PC and the television.
What links these issues is the importance of the end users as active players in the innovation-diffusion process. It was end- and intermediate-users adopting the Internet and Web that attracted interactive television developers, and it is these users who are now directly involved in the innovation process. This paper uses social learning (Srensen 1996) as an analytic framework of socio-technical change that includes an integration of end users in the innovation and diffusion process. Social learning goes beyond the development and diffusion of technology and content to include the creation of new knowledge, regulations, expectations, institutions and cultural norms. In particular it focuses on the role of users in innovation, including the development of user knowledge and practices, and the interaction between users and producers.
In this process different actors (users and producers) orient to poles of attraction, including utopian visions, projects and trials, technologies, regulations, user groups, markets, uses, or emerging cultural norms, all of which may crystallise into real products and institutions or disappear to be replaced by a new ones. The process of creation, diffusion and use of new technology and content is not controlled by those innovating the products. Users and producers of technology and content related to television and new media slowly appropriate and shape each other’s products and patterns of use, learning from each other over a protracted period of time. Previous examples that provide useful parallels to interactive television are the telephone and videotext. Both are network systems which changed as people began to use them, and found how they could be useful in ways that the developers had originally not considered as important. In interactive TV, the Television has always been the dominant pole of attraction for both the producers and users, but only industry was interested in interactive technologies.
Industry therefore drove innovation independently of any need or desire of potential users. Now the Internet has emerged, and it is pole of attraction shared by users and producers: the innovation process now is shaped strongly by the market. One outcome is a slow change from early models of technology and content based around individual use of media to one that integrates the existing collective use of media and the social practices that surround media products and technologies in everyday use. At the same time, users are altering their everyday practices of media and technology use with the new systems that are currently available, changing the possible market for new products almost before they have a chance to come to that market. This can be illustrated this by looking at evidence of the first few years of the co-existence and evolution of TV and the Web, covering attempts to integrate them technically, and find synergies between them, from the perspective of technology companies, broadcasters and end users.
Looking to the future, this article reviews qualitative research on how people actually watch and use television, and some experiences from current use of the interactive material on computers. Combined with reports of interactive television trials, it is possible to illustrate the rich use of both traditional and newer interactive media in the home. We can then more critically approach the uncertainly over the relationship between the Web and television. Fortunately for the optimists, the Web is not static – developments of services and content that reflect the way television is used at home for could make the Web and TV marriage a success. However in the long run through a slow process of social learning we can see interactive television developing into a richer medium that either the Web or TV offers today, but one that is far from the homogeneous television system of today.
1.1 The Wild World Web – innovation in a open environment Most of the previous attempts to make interactive services for the home have had to start nearly from scratch, and concentrate on creating large-scale technical systems. The television has seemed the most obvious terminal to use as the display. In general, developers worked with technologies and services that, prior to roll-out, were not available to users. They tried to create ready-made systems that could be delivered fully functioning to the public. In general they were able to develop the systems without involving the end users, or at least without them being any more active in the innovation process than as subjects of research or controlled trials.