Karen Dempsey looks at how firms are tackling the difficult task of
wedding TV to the Internet
‘Television and the Internet are powerful media on their own. Linked
together, they become extremely compelling. Converged, they are a killer
This is the vision of Tim Carron Brown, chief executive of Channel 11,
one of the firms committed to convergence - the integration of
information services and TV.
But the road towards convergence is proving to be a very rocky one. Alex
Letts, chairman of the SMI Group, says that there has been a lot of
unfulfilled hype. ‘There is starting to be a backlash because the
reality is far removed from the promise.’
So which is the way forward, and what are the advantages of convergence?
Channel 11 is part of Interactive News Network, a company backed by,
among others, Chris Ingram, chairman of the CIA group and Richard
Humphreys, former chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi. It currently
provides 24-hour rolling news on three channels dedicated to the wine,
food and drink industries as well as a ‘behind-the-screen’ business
information service available to subscribers.
The service was due to be rolled out to consumers in September, but the
launch has now been delayed until next year.
It is also working on creating TV programmes for the Internet, but until
the technology catches up, Channel 11 is still more of a Web site than a
TV channel. ‘When we have digital interactive television we will move
from one to the other seamlessly, but in the interim Channel 11 is
trying to get as close to that as possible,’ says Carron Brown.
Its first solution was to mail out 180,000 CD-ROMs to users to give
better graphics and serve up images at greater speed than the Internet
normally allows. And its latest initiative is InTV, a joint venture with
IBM bringing together the Internet and television in a PCTV.
InTV is a turnkey package offering hardware, software, access to a
Channel 11 network, as well as a smart TV card that will allow users to
use it as a conventional TV. They will be able to move from one function
to the other in another step towards convergence.
Channel 11 claims it is trying to make technology available in an easy
solution. ‘People just want a plug-and-play solution. They need
information but are scared of scaling the hurdle of the Internet,’ says
Indeed, a recent survey from Motorola/Mori showed that people would like
to use new technology but they are held back because they do not have
access to it, and they feel they are being left behind. In the survey,
85% had heard of the Internet but 75% did not know how to use it and
only 9% used it regularly.
Industry experts, however, are sceptical about integrating the two media
and question whether consumers are ready for it.
Alex Johnston, director of Traffic Interactive, says that information
and TV are two separate entities that should not try to do each other’s
‘The Internet’s purpose is to provide information, and TV is the
entertainment vehicle. The Internet is judged as a delivery platform,
whereas the TV is looked at from a content perspective as a place to
watch Coronation Street,’ says Johnston.
‘Nowhere do you hear about how easy it is to plug in your TV and switch
on your video. The Internet is form, television is content and never the
twain shall meet. The question is: where does the Internet sit in the
continuum between information and entertainment?’
He stresses that it is the content that will determine whether the
Internet will function as an entertainment provider, but at the moment
the technology is not sophisticated enough to deliver clear images over
the PC screen.
Letts is more pragmatic in his approach to convergence, believing that
it will be a lot harder than marketers think to change people’s
At this moment in the consumer cycle, people see the PC as a tool and
the TV as an entertainment device. There is no reason why interactive
information cannot be sourced through TV but it depends if you want to
do home shopping in front of your television.
‘Making the step towards a one-stop interface with online interaction is
a huge leap of faith that marketing men will make at their peril,’ he
Letts feels that the initial, most acceptable, solution will be a more
sophisticated kind of Teletext service. ‘Teletext has sat side by side
with TV very comfortably for years. Consumers can relate to it and fit
it in with their lifestyle,’ he says.
But he feels the need for services to improve and says that it all has a
long way to go. ‘The reality is that it will take two or three years to
come from the kindergarten to the main consumer forum.
‘In the meantime, who is going to change their normal behaviour and
tolerate the agony of the online experience as it stands today?’