'Next Big Star' tests rising tech celebrity

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Pax TV's "Ed McMahon's Next Big Star" has made an attempt at the next big thing for interactive TV-the ability for viewers to click onto parts of an actual video via the Internet to access an advertiser's Web site.

"Next Big Star," Mr. McMahon's new "Star Search" show, has been testing the technology for advertisers including Chrysler Group's Chrysler and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.'s Panasonic brands.

The show, which premiered more than two months ago, tried the technology out Dec. 2, giving away Chrysler Sebrings to each winner in the new talent showcase. "Next Big Star" airs Sundays at 6 p.m.

By watching the show on TV and accessing its Web site (www.nextbigstar.com) on a computer, enthusiasts could view still frames captured from the video in real-time. When the action moved to the Chrysler cars onstage, viewers could click onto the cars and be transferred to the Chrysler Web site. Chrysler is one of the show's advertisers.

A Panasonic big-screen TV appeared behind Mr. McMahon onstage. A click on the TV in the computer version pulled up a Panasonic Web page; Panasonic is also an advertiser. Even clicking on Mr. McMahon's sports jacket sent viewers to a Web site-Neiman-Marcus.

"You can visually click on whatever it is of interest in the show," said Dan Bates, president-CEO, Creative Frontier, creator of the technology called ClickVision.

ClickVision is another iteration of "Enhanced TV" efforts, where TV shows are linked up real-time to Web sites. The idea is a prelude to more ambitious iTV schemes and broadband technologies.

ClickVison technology is a suite of applications and services that may be delivered via Internet streaming, DVD, CD-ROM and broadcast TV.

In some previous executions of Enhanced TV, providers such as Walt Disney Co.'s ABC would only sync up their shows to Web sites in offering specific interactive informational content-no video was attached to the Web site.

For instance, fans could play along in real-time with "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." For the "The Academy Awards," ABC ran a poll on a Web site asking viewers to predict who would win specific awards-just before they are to be announced. During commercials, additional advertiser information for, say, a Toyota vehicle would pop up on ABC's site.

Though the Dec. 2 "Next Big Star" telecast was a one-time iTV trial, Pax TV and Creative Frontier are looking to do more episodes with advertisers. Creative Frontier is also talking with General Electric Co.'s NBC and Viacom's CBS for future TV shows.

"Eventually, through convergence, you are going to be able to get this on your set-all at the same time," said Jeff McMahon, "Next Big Star" chief operating officer and Ed McMahon's son. "If they [networks] really think this through and create some sexy promotions around it, people will be inclined to click through. There is a future for it."

Next spring Creative Frontier will work with PBS children's show "Reading Rainbow." No sponsors are connected here, but video images will be captured and viewers will be directed to information links for the educational show.

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