WorldGate Begins Major Test of Interactive System

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WorldGate Communications Inc., Bensalem, PA, rolled out its Channel HyperLinking technology, which allows television viewers to search the Internet while watching cable television, on July 28.

The technology would allow all kinds of marketers to broadcast commercials with interactive components that allow for a direct response from consumers.

HyperLinking was demonstrated at the National Cable Television Association trade show held in Chicago in June. The service is being tested in Massillon, OH, for three months. The results of the test will be monitored by Nielsen Media Research.

"This type of ad is fully interactive," said Gerard Kunkle, senior vice president of Wolrdgate. "We are going to go to various markets across the nation that Nielsen determines best project the national television viewing audience."

WorldGate's Channel Hyperlinking also allows for addressable advertising, which is a sophisticated form of targeting commercials to highly specific market segments. WorldGate's technology allows the company to monitor behavioral patterns of viewers and determine their receptiveness to various kinds of advertising. The company stores nonidentifiable demographic profiles and will be able to segment, profile and target specific audiences.

WorldGate has established marketing partnerships with General Motors Corp., Warner-Lambert Co., Kraft and Sprint.

"One thing that General Motors is doing is leading you from the ad to the Web site, where you will locate a dealer that is either close to you or has the model that you are interested in," said Kunkle. "Sprint is making a host of offers on its Web site."

The interactive commercials can be shot in a standard video format. The underlying interactive technology is based on non-proprietary Internet protocols, which means advertisers do not have adopt a special format for their ads. Viewers can link to Web sites by clicking on a hyperlinked icon that appears in the corner of the screen.

Karl Gamester, director of General Motors Cyberworks, did not return phone calls as of press time, but in a prepared statement he said the convergence of television and the Internet is occurring now and the effects of this new style of marketing will change the way advertisers promote their products.

"In the future, companies like WorldGate will provide advertisers the ability to realize the full potential of creating and delivering content across a variety of platforms that combine the richness of television with the depth of engagement of the Internet," he said. "Partnering with WorldGate and other early leaders in interactive television gives us the opportunity to support and shape the new media and accelerate its delivery to a broader audience."

Viewers access the Internet through a narrowband set-top box that is provided by the local cable company for an additional monthly subscriber fee of $4.95. The box can be equipped with digital cable converters that greatly enhance its speed.

The system does not have the ability to download files, but it can save pages through a bookmarking method. The Internet can be accessed either through a remote control or wireless keyboard.

"The delivery of the page is very detailed in graphics," Kunkle said. "TV programmers and advertisers can express their own idea of enhanced television with our service. Interactive or Web content is up to the advertiser and the programmer."

For the purposes of this test, residents of Massillon will have interactive capability on 52 channels of the 87 provided by the local cable service. Currently 30,710 households of the 37,000 cable subscribers are taking part in the test. After the company completes this current test, it will begin testing on a national level with multiple cable providers. The second test is scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year.

The company has not yet determined how the study will be conducted since the methodology is currently being developed by research experts, programmers and cable operators.

According to the company, several blue-chip advertisers intend to participate in the study. The study will explore the effectiveness of targeting, while looking at the effect interactivity has on television viewing. Advertisers in both studies will receive regular reports on usage and will be able to monitor their content and look for patterns of viewing behavior.

Channel HyperLinking technology is also designed to strengthen viewer loyalty to TV networks by offering benefits beyond traditional programming, and it has the potential to create numerous additional revenue streams. In addition to providing links to marketers, it also has links to Web sites related to a specific show and the network that broadcasts it.

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