Since its inception in 1993 Wink Communications has used its interactive TV technology to add interactive capabilities to televisions and telephones. Wink is used in about 120,000 homes in a handful of US cities, and hopes during 1999 to expand its presence to 1.5 million households in major cities including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The service is also available in Japan.
The technology is already used by TV and cable stations as well as by advertisers. It allows companies to experience new ways of communication. While the current technologies might not be all that flash it is great to see these initiatives, as they provide us with good learning tools. Once these technologies are more developed – somewhere around 2001/2003 – we expect about 20% of the population (an early adopters group) will be eager to use these new interactive TV applications.
Wink’s Response Network Services collects viewer responses generated from interactive commercials and programming. Viewers can request information or order products from advertisers with a click of their remote controls. Those requests are then processed to Wink’s data centre.
Manufacturers pay only a few dollars per set-top box to add the Wink technology. The cable operator pays a little bit extra to put this box in but then has all these new interactive revenue streams. The best thing is that consumers pay nothing. Unlike other interactive television systems, Wink is free for consumers and isn’t hooked up through telephone lines to the Internet.
In June 1999 Microsoft invested US$30 million into the company and received a 10% shareholding for this. Wink will provide enhanced tools for broadcast and cable television networks and advertisers using Microsoft’s WebTV.
Microsoft has its own interactive TV project, known as WebTV, which operates differently from Wink. The combined offerings of Wink and Microsoft are aimed at accelerating the wide adoption of interactive television. The companies agreed to promote content and commerce based on a standard American digital TV standard, called Advanced Television Enhancement Forum. Content based on the ATVEF specification can be delivered by analogue and digital lines, satellite and cable systems, digital television or personal computers.
How it works:
If you’re watching a show or commercial that has Wink features, you’ll see a little icon with a cursive letter ‘i’ in the corner of the screen. You can then click a button on your remote, and up pops a little window offering you options for more information about the show or commercial you’re watching. It’s a little like ordering a pay-per-view movie. The Weather Channel is offering extra information on local forecasts. On The Tonight Show, details about guests pop up. On CNN, the top headlines scroll past while the main report continues.
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