ACTV Prepares Web Test With Showtime

Cable channel Showtime plans to merge its television programming with its Web site through the technology of ACTV Inc., New York.

The technology, called HyperTV, places content on the Web that is related specifically to the programs airing on television. The channel plans to test the technology in the fourth quarter with its “Sci-Fridays” night of programming and with boxing matches not offered through pay-per-view. The test market has yet to be determined.

“We have done studies that show 20 million people are online while they are watching TV,” said Mark Greenberg, executive vice president of corporate strategy at Showtime. “As business people, we are trying to embellish and build this technology and move toward integration.”

The decision to add programming to HyperTV will be based on consumer response during its test period. The online content will include real-time chat areas, information on actors or the athletes in particular events and merchandise sales. In addition to the entertainment value, there is also the possibility of advertising revenue.

“Although Showtime is premium television and doesn’t have advertising,” said Arthur Cohen, senior vice president of electronic media and commerce for ACTV, “we are making it easier for them to increase viewership and to create a synchronized back channel on the Web.”

According to Showtime’s research, its Friday prime-time programming and its boxing matches attract the largest number of viewers, which made this programming the logical choice for the test.

“Showtime’s Sci-Fridays and fights can give us historical information that can be used when we expand into rich media,” said Richard Yelen, senior vice president of marketing for ACTV. “As far as rich media goes, we know we are on the cutting edge and we are wrestling with that among ourselves. If the viewers eventually tune into the Internet for their programming, we will be able to provide a fat channel.”

There is no additional cost to the viewer and no additional hardware to purchase for this added service.

“What we are doing now is building everything and bringing this up to standards,” Greenberg said. “Being the front runner in this area it is important to come out looking as good as possible.”

As convergence becomes a reality, Showtime has found that the “Generation-Y” group of teens and college-age young adults is more adept at multitasking then older generations.

“The Generation Y group has a very different view of entertainment than say the baby boomers, who generally do not multitask at all,” Greenberg said. “As the Net becomes more powerful and easier to use, it will be heavily ensconced among the Gen-Yers who are the driving force behind a lot of this technology.”

Showtime is the second cable network to have signed on with HyperTV. The other is The Box video music channel, which allows videos to be requested on a pay-per-view basis. It uses the Internet to provide additional information about the performers in the video.

“We certainly believe that at some point all of this information and entertainment will be in one screen,” Cohen said.

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