ACTV FINDS PARTNERS FOR U.S. TV TEST

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Interactive technology company ACTV has already found a niche in Canada. Now it's out to tackle the U.S.

New York-based ACTV's special set-top box and remote control allow viewers to customize programming by selecting camera angles during sports telecasts, or choosing among different commercials. Montreal cable TV company Groupe Videotron has used ACTV technology for four years in its Videoway system, which reaches more than 200,000 subscribers.

ACTV earlier this month announced plans for "L.A. Project," an interactive TV test to start later this year in the Los Angeles area. ACTV's partners for the test include the powerful William Morris Agency, which will package programming, and Prime Ticket Network, a regional sports network with 4 million subscribers.

Last week, ACTV added a third partner, consultancy Next Century Media, to develop advertiser relationships.

Together with an unidentified cable TV system, the partners will develop an interactive channel with sports, news, educational and game show programming, as well as "enhanced" infomercials and ads.

ACTV claims its approach to interactivity is more advertiser-friendly because it is programming-oriented, not technology-driven. But ACTV doesn't offer two-way interactivity; all the commands from the remote are processed only by the set-top box. That means the company may find it difficult rowing in the sea of high-tech tests scheduled to start this year.

"Our concept is traditional TV made better," said David Reese, ACTV exec VP and head of the L.A. Project. "We allow the person, through the traditional avenue of TV, to make choices, to see a commercial that might be more demographically important."

Next Century's ambitious goal is to sign 50 sponsors of the test, to reach 250 homes initially and grow to 1,000 homes. Among the options Next Century is pitching to prospective advertisers, in addition to the idea of choosing among various commercials, is sponsorship of different camera angles or of entire programs, said Doug McFarland, VP-broadcasting marketing at Next Century.

While no deals have been signed, likely candidates include Prime Ticket sponsors, said Nick Rhodes, VP-business development at the cable network. Among those top advertisers are Miller Brewing Co., Coors Brewing Co., Toyota Motor Corp. USA and General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division, Mr. Rhodes said.

Sponsors will be charged $25,000 to $40,000 to participate in the test, Mr. McFarland said. While advertisers will be able to work with ACTV to develop new spots specifically for the test, they also have the option of providing existing ads.

Next Century's pedigree may help ACTV gain entree to big advertisers. The New Paltz, N.Y.-based consultancy's chairman is Len Matthews, the former president of Leo Burnett Worldwide who served 10 years as president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

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