Local iTV caught napping

Interactive television could take years to hit the Australian consumer mainstream, and even longer to reach high levels of interactivity, two industry consultants have warned.

Ex-Australian Broadcasting Authority board members Tim O'Keefe and Peter Webb, who both head their own digital media consultancies, said it was possible that Australia's uptake of interactive television (iTV) would echo that of the UK, where iTV took three years to attain widespread consumer appeal.

They said that although it would not necessarily take iTV that long to reach the same levels of popularity locally, the UK iTV industry was "much more sophisticated" than its Australian counterpart, they said.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has dedicated 70 staff to "repurposing" content specifically for iTV, whereas its free-to-air Australian counterparts used existing staff to "multi-purpose" content non-specifically, they said.

Commercial television stations were still stuck in the "contemplative stage, with technical problems still to be resolved and business models still to be drawn up", Webb said.

Interactive television in Australia will get off to a "ragged start", he said.

The consultants said viable business models and significant investor commitment would still need to be found in order to kick-start the country's iTV industry after January 1 2001, when datacasting licences take effect.

Investors in iTV operations would need to be both adventurous and patient, as significant revenues were only expected to be achieved through a critical customer base, they said.

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