Interactive television will enter Indian living rooms faster than we think.
Fast-forward five years.
Flipping through the movie channels; my eyes catch Nicole Kidman. With my remote I reach the 'electronic programme guy', (better known by its abbreviation EPG, an in-built utility appearing on the television screen) which gives me the details of the movie: the title, the star cast, the director, the story in a nutshell, the duration in minutes, the number of minutes I have missed and the upcoming movie. Glad I haven't missed much, I continue watching The Hours.
In the middle of an India-Pakistan match, one Sunday, a viewer receives an urgent call from his client in UK. Only, he is not upset at the interruption. He presses a button on his remote and the 'personal video recorder' (PVR), records the match for the duration that he takes to attend the call. He can, later, go back to the portion of the match he has missed.
Sounds like fiction TV? Maybe. But very soon it will be the new reality TV. Welcome to the world of interactive television, which is already available in US. Says Peter Mukerjea, chief executive, Star India, "Interactive TV is becoming the new order of media and should be available in India, at a reasonable price in five years."
So what is interactive TV? It is a convergence technology that will convert the one-way passive TV viewing into a two-way interactive experience. The technology would enable television viewers accessing remote servers and the internet through their television and the digital set top device.
Mukerjea explains, "The younger generation wants media on demand; they want to control media in place of the media controlling them." In the new world, TV will become a product and the viewers will share with it a consumer relationship. With this change, consumers will decide everything including how, who and where they will get their entertainment.
To begin with, you can watch programmes of your choice at any given time. You can watch more than one programme simultaneously; or watch one and record another. Viewers will not be restricted to watching movies being screened by the channel they happen to be watching but can choose the one they wish to see. They can select from a menu on the screen and access a list of movies from which they can choose the one they wish to see.
There is choice while watching a sporting activity too. It's like ordering a la carte instead of being satisfied with the buffet. How many times has it happened, while watching a cricket match, you wanted to see square leg angle but instead were forced to see the statistics? No more. At the bottom of the screen you will have an option to see the various angles: stumps, square leg, stadium, statistics - you choose and decide the angle you want to see.
There's more. Let's say, you are watching a Peter O'Toole movie on one of the channels. It whets your interest and you want to see more of him. With click on your remote, you can get a list of all his movies along with their synopses and, if you want, you can order on the spot, a DVD of the movie you choose without moving out from your couch. The buying of course is not restricted to just DVDs. You can buy everything or anything that you can buy off the net today. Prepare to move out e-commerce, it's time for TV-commerce or just t-commerce.
So, while you are still watching television, in the new order you can also have video on-demand, electronic programming guides, customised local information like news and weather, video recording, t-commerce and internet access.
What's more television will move out from the box to fit snugly into your mobile phones pretty shortly. Whether you are struck in a traffic jam or delayed in a meeting you need not miss your favourite programme. From your mobile you can dial a number and request a 1-minute download (mobisode) of a 24-minute episode.
Incredible as it may sound, interactive TV does not use technology that will require you to change your television set. All that is required is a digital set top box and a compatible remote. Experts say, it would be quite affordable to the common man.
Unarguably, this will be an exciting phase for consumers. But distributors and advertisers have to surmount critical issues. For distributors, the crucial point will be the management of digital rights to protect the programme 'properties'.
For advertisers, it is a major concern, as the revenue model of the television channels would change from advertisements to subscriptions. In the interactive television era, mainline revenue will be subscription; advertising will take a backseat. As Mukerjea says, " I see the ad to subscription ratio moving from the current 70:30 to 50:50 and finally stabilising at 30:70. The challenge would be how not to sideline advertisers completely."
Sounds good but how long will it take to reach our homes? Well, according to a report by market research firm IDC, by 2006, interactive television will reach 36 million US households. In India, if Peter Mukerjea and Star TV are to be believed, interactive television should become a reality in another five years. And when it does, make no mistake about it, it will be the most attractive media and the television set, the most treasured possession.
Fast-forward five years again. I feel like a monarch. My television set is the macrocosm of my entertainment world. At the touch of a button, I have my buddy, the EPG and my handyman, the PVR. I can choose a movie to watch, order a pizza, check the weather and chat with my friend, just at the touch of a button, without moving out of my couch.
Could I have asked for more?
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