Interactive TV pilot planned for February

Ice Interactive, a local developer of interactive TV applications, says it will be talking to TVNZ and Telstra Saturn about digital TV.

Ice Interactive, a local developer of interactive TV applications, says it will be talking to TVNZ and Telstra Saturn about digital TV.

TVNZ and Telstra Saturn this week announced that they would partner to provide a digital television service in competition with Sky TV.

Ice Interactive, which started up last month, is planning to pilot its interactive TV service here by next February and is seeking a maximum of five partners for the trial. Ideally this would include a broadcaster, bank, retailer and telco, says general manager Alistair Cran. Ice Interactive is also talking to web development firm Zivo, another company interested in interactive television.

Ice Interactive will write applications for partners wanting to offer services via its interactive channels, which link broadcast content with internet content. As well as the channels, the service provides standard free-to-air TV, a searchable interactive TV guide, web access and email.

Ice Interactive chief Reg Russ, formerly the head of TVNZ’s New Media division, says he would like to see a mixture of New Zealanders taking part in the trial.

“For example it could be people living in a Wellington high rise apartment, some rural people and a specialist group such as education providers,” he says. Ice Interactive is commissioning a research company to find a comprehensive sample of New Zealand society.

Ice’s Australian parent has been trialling the service in Orange, a rural New South Wales town with limited telecommunications access, for three months. Russ sees digital TV as a way of bridging the digital divide whether it be by providing internet access to areas that don’t have physical access or to homes that might not buy a PC.

Ice Interactive already has 150 set-top boxes made by Liberate (formerly Oracle NIC), in the country for the pilot, which will cost $3 million. The NIC box comes with a standard keyboard and remote control and a built-in 56Kbit/s modem, as well radio frequency aerial input for the free-to-air channels. Each set-top box takes five individual user accounts and has a port for a printer and video camera. Russ says in the Australian pilot some people have daisy-chained the NIC box with pay-TV decoders and there have been no compatibility problems.

He hopes the applications that Ice develops in Australia and New Zealand are eventually sold elsewhere in the world. US-based Liberate, which owns 10% of Ice Interactive (it is also 40% owned by Perth venture capitalist Burdekin Resources and 15% owned by Oracle) supplies interactive services to AT&T in the US and NTL, a major UK cable TV company.

Cran says research in the US suggests email is the most-used application for interactive TV so far. Users can take screen shots or video from TV programmes or from a video camera and send them via email.

Pizza Hut has been taking part in the Australia pilot though one of the interactive channels. A trigger in the broadcast signal allows people to order a pizza from the chain. Cran says in the UK Dominos Pizzas has lifted its revenue 30% since it starting showing interactive ads.

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