While Interactive TV company ICTV cut the ribbon on its new office in San Jose, Calif., yesterday, don’t call it a startup. ICTV’s been trying to bridge the gap between the web video experience and TV for 10 years already.
What’s really cool is that ICTV enables content providers to create interactive TV through the cable or IPTV set-top boxes people already have. There’s no need for the consumer to buy and plug in any additional hardware, and the interface can be controlled through the set-top box’s existing remote control.
ICTV works with networks including FOX, CNN and the
Weather Channel AccuWeather to create specific programming that takes advantage of the interactive capabilities. These features are not added on top of the existing channel you normally watch, but are built from the ground up on an entirely new channel. For example, if you watch CNN on channel 55, you’d experience a clickable version on channel 257.
On that interactive CNN, you’ll find a live video feed in the upper right-hand corner, just like the regular channel, but beneath it are a number of other choices. You can browse through a menu of other options such as sports, weather or entertainment news, and from there, choose from a number of stories on that topic, just as you would browse for video content on CNN’s web site.
The video options are delivered as standard MPEG streams via an on-demand infrastructure. The content programmer determines the video options through simple RSS feeds, so they can be updated and changed as often as they want.
ICTV makes its money by charging content owners like FOX or CNN to create these clickable channels. The content owners turn around and sell ads on these new channels. And since ICTV emulates a web video experience, the ads aren’t just passive, but can be clicked on in order to get more information or make purchases. The new channel also lets advertisers create a persistent ad (like a banner ad) that remains while the content plays.
While ICTV says it has a million subscribers worldwide, most of those are PCCW subscribers in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the service is being tested in small, undisclosed locations around the U.S.
ICTV is hardly alone in the interactive video space; we’ve written about web-based clickable video products from SeenON!, Asterpix, and Ooyala. But ICTV’s insistence on using video standards for programmers and existing hardware in the homes for consumers definitely makes them one to watch.