It must have been three or even four years ago that I did a presentation at the "Nationale Loterij" about interactive digital television and what it would mean to people. At that time iDTV was the buzzword, in the mean time Telenet (the pioneer at that time) has dropped the "i" for interactive and at Belgacom the word is "TV" and no more. And together with the "i" the promises of interactivity have disappeared in a deep drawer.
At the end of last century interactivity meant clicking a button, and thanks to the hyperlink behind it something happened. Geeks (like me) thought is was a revolutionary idea, but the average user was less thrilled. If I push my doorbell something happens too, do I have an interactive house now? Nope. It took a few years until we collectively figured out how to use internet technology to create real interactivity. That's what we call web 2.0 today.
But how interactive is interactive TV? Not at all if you ask me. A red dot in the corner of my screen during a commercial, which then leads to some kind of brochure on a screen, that is not what I consider to be interactivity. And still this seems to be the "state of the art" in interactive advertising on TV. In the mean time the internet is packed with interactive solution, platforms, concept or whatever you want to call them. At Podshow.com consumers can build their own intelligent channels with video content, channels which can be consumed on your Apple TV, iPhone, Windows Media Center of whatever device that's connected to the net. Fire up Joost or an internet radio station and you can chat, Twitter or even video conference with peers. And on our interactive TV ... wen can push a red button every now and then.
Thinking back about where internet TV (or IP TV) was back when interactive TV was announced, I can understand the initial enthusiasm for an intelligent TV set. I was a big fan too, because video and audio on the web was still a bit exotic back then. But in the mean time the open internet has moved so quickly that I seriously doubt whether there is a future for interactive TV. Just think about ll the niche TV-channels we see popping up online. E.g. Carchannel (disclaimer: a customer of ours) is turning into a full internet TV concept and both Jobat and Vacature launched their internet TV channel, although I must admit that the interactivity is not brilliant yet there.
The reason for this inertia in interactive TV is the walled-garden-thinking. The name alone makes me think of the a medieval monastery where a lot of thinking was done about the well being of the monks, without caring too much about the people outside the walls. But the internet is open, and everybody is free to contribute their part to a more interesting media offering. Both enthusiastic amateurs and intelligent advertisers are building platforms to bring their message to the world in a creative and truly interactive way. And when the interactive TV-boys start looking over the walls of their garden, they will notice that the audience has moved to other places.
So what will the future bring? Digital TV will not disappear immediately. The fact that in a few years we will all be obliged to switch to digital at the time of the analogue switch-off is reason enough for Telenet and Belgacom to keep investing in these platforms. But if they do not start working on real interactivity the digiboxes will not even be enough to compensate the down going trend TV is facing. The flat screen TV's in our countries are more then ready to be connected to Apple TV's, Media centers, X-boxes and Playstations.
Start moving guys, start moving or start losing.