REDMOND, Wash., May 3, 1999 — Among the many events and presentations at the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, one group offered a glimpse of the future.
Advanced Television Enhancement Forum, or ATVEF, a cross-industry alliance founded by Microsoft and 13 other technology and media companies, showcased its drive to establish a single standard for producing interactive television.
For a sense of what interactive television has to offer, picture a local newscast, an infomercial, or an episode of Baywatch accompanied by a range of interactive content.
A viewer who tunes into the middle of an interactive episode of Baywatch is able to select a menu item and read a synopsis to catch up on the current plot line or book a ticket on Expedia to take a cruise. Someone who is curious about what’s coming up after the news can point the cursor to a programming guide and preview the evening schedule. If the skin-care products Victoria Principal is selling in her infomercial look interesting, placing an order is just a click away.
During the broadcasters’ conference, Microsoft’s ATVEF team was busy recruiting broadcasters, cable and satellite companies, and others as adopters of the ATVEF specification for television enhancements. The team launched the ATVEF Web site-available now at http://www.microsoft.com/atvef/ and hosted a reception for platform, transport, and content companies.
Getting with the Program
But Microsoft promoters of the ATVEF specification are not asking just broadcasting conventioneers to get with the program. They want anyone at Microsoft whose products or services involve the Internet to consider incorporating the specification into what they are doing. The ATVEF spec not only makes interactive television possible, it also makes products traditionally used on a computer adaptable to television. “People will come up with things we haven’t even thought of,” said Jim Laurel, group marketing manager for Microsoft’s Digital Television Group. “A lot of applications typically used while sitting in front of a computer could be applied to a TV set.”
The current momentum that is building for proposed ATVEF standards is exactly what Microsoft and other forum founders sought when they first came together in 1997. Without a standard specification, content companies had to tailor interactive programming to individual technologies, making them reluctant to invest in such efforts. And without a broad range of content, consumers would not invest in set-top boxes, digital videodisc players, and other devices that deliver the content. Further, the receivers, applications, and tools for creating interactive content developed by companies like Microsoft would not achieve their potential.
By adhering to the standard, ATVEF founders-such as Disney, Public Broadcasting Service, and CNN Interactive-and ATVEF adopters are able to produce interactive television content for viewing across any network to any ATVEF-compliant receiver.
With a greater supply of content, interactive television can achieve the critical mass that will move it onto the family-room television and handheld videodisc players-or stream it to computers over the Internet.
ATVEF’s 14 founding companies-Microsoft, Intel, Disney, NBC, CableLabs, Discovery, PBS, DirecTV, CNN, TCI, NCI, Sony Online, Tribune, and Warner Bros.-represent more than 50 percent of U.S. domestic television programming, and 85 percent of U.S. households receiving cable and satellite programming, as well as major consumer-electronics and computer-industry companies, said Kris Evans of the Microsoft Digital Television Group.
Recent adopters, from Samsung to Tektronics, and several other companies that signed up during the Las Vegas convention, are proving the merit of a standards-based approach, Evans added.
With the adoption of a single standard, the long-awaited convergence of television and the Internet can finally become a reality.