Few technological innovations in the history of television broadcasting have held as much promise for DRTV as interactive television.
The ability for a DRTV producer to conduct product transactions through the television set in real time as a program airs is a dream come true: The viewing experience becomes a purchasing experience with the press of a few buttons on the remote.
The challenge of working within such a powerful medium is avoiding the temptation of over-exploiting it and alienating viewers.
Simply defined, interactive television today consists primarily of the encoding of data into the broadcast signal so a modern set-top box can receive and interpret it to display the graphics and text on the television screen. Viewers can then use their remote controls to navigate through the interactive on-screen elements, for example, click on an item to purchase it, play along with a game show or get additional information related to a news broadcast.
The temptation is to prompt the viewer at every opportunity with offers from commercials, television shows, promos, etc. The reality is that after a short time of watching television with so many prompts, pitches and invitations, viewers quickly tire of having to click their remotes replying “yes” or “no” numerous times per hour. The end result is a harried, overworked television customer who is ready to throw these new set-top boxes out the window.
Since interactive television data can originate from any party along the chain of production and distribution — from the producer, syndicator, network or broadcast or cable affiliate, no one party can insert data into a broadcast signal and be sure that it's not the 10th interactive prompt sent in the past five minutes.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon interactive television programmers and service providers to give viewers control over the interactive environment. Primarily, this comes in the form of letting viewers set their own preferences for interactive television viewing. Through the interactive television service or program, viewers must be given control over how often their attention is solicited, how those solicitations are displayed and, ultimately, a feedback mechanism that receives complaints and comments for the interactive television production staff to review and implement accordingly.
Second, when user preferences are not defined or are not available, the “one click rule” should be observed. The viewer should always have the option to make the interactive content go away and return to normal viewing mode within one click of the remote. After all, it takes only one click for a viewer to change the channel or turn off the television, so it's in the interest of all parties to make the enabling and disabling of interactive content a one-click process.
With interactive television being such an intrinsically invasive medium, programmers must respect that power and behave appropriately as “invited guests.” If we use the technology as a crowbar into the home and make a poor first impression, we risk the danger of “not being invited back” or, even worse, being regulated by the federal government.
DRTV programming is certain to enter a renaissance with the introduction of interactive television technology into U.S. homes. Any room in a house with a TV and set-top box automatically becomes a potential point of purchase. We must make sure that as television transforms from a one-way, passive medium into a two-way, interactive one, we respect the power we are being granted by the invention and deployment of interactive television.