SFU Report Sets Out 'Vision' Of Interactive TV

November 28, 1997

The information highway will soon be coming to your television set.

Researchers in Simon Fraser University's Excite lab are helping determine what it looks like, and how it can best meet consumer needs.

Excite's interactive television (ITV) research team has produced a 273-page report, The Vision of Interactive TV, an in-depth study of consumer preferences and attitudes about ITV, and how cable operators can meet their needs.

Dependability and ease are high on consumers' lists. Researchers recommend a 'tiered' model of delivery - one that provides different levels of ITV access to support the various viewing habits of cable subscribers.

"Until recently, cable operators have concentrated almost exclusively on the technology behind interactive television," says Julie Zilber, Excite's director of operations. "But content design and the TV-viewing experience will ultimately determine the success of interactive television offerings. That's why it's crucial for the cable industry to understand what successful interactive content will look like and how subscribers will use it."

The report is part of ongoing research at Excite, located in SFU's faculty of education, to find ways of fostering wider acceptance of ITV content delivered through two-way cable systems.

Researchers identified four lifestyles categories among its consumer focus groups and examined how each would react to ITV content and services. Of the four groups, two are likely to use ITV if it is reliable, easy-to-use, as convenient as the current telephone service - and as entertaining as television. Researchers also looked at what types of content would appeal to these two groups and came up with the tiered model.

"Excite's initial focus group showed us that a satisfying interactive TV experience is completely different from that of surfing the Web," says Glenn Wong, president of B.C. operations for Rogers Cablesystems Inc., Canada's largest cable operator. Researchers say there's more to it than simply putting Web content on a TV set and assuming viewers will enjoy the experience. Content and design changes are necessary to accommodate TV's technical restrictions - and to improve viewing capabilities.

In their report, researchers also reviewed leading technologies and devices and summarized how they would meet consumer requirements."This report breaks new ground in the cable industry's efforts to identify and generate new sources of revenue," says John Madden, executive director of the Canadian Cable Labs fund, which is sponsoring the research project. After reading the report, Cable Labs president, Dr. Richard Green, took the extraordinary step of offering to absorb Excite's exhibitors' fees so researchers could present their findings at CableNET, a component of the Western Cable Show, in California next month.

Simon Fraser University

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