TRYING TO ANSWER THE CONSUMER QUESTION

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Who's going to buy this stuff?

That was the key question at the Interactive Television Association's first major conference, held in Philadelphia late last month.

The answer may be difficult to determine since interactive TV will mean different things to different people.

Speakers agreed that while consumers may buy interactive media because of its educational uses, they may use games and entertainment more often.

Measuring consumer interest is "going to be a step-by-step procedure because the industry is so new," said Craig Gugel, senior VP-interactive media and research at Bates USA, New York. "I think we'll get more definitive feedback from people as they get more exposed to [interactive] applications."

It's unclear whether interactive technology will be used primarily for information, entertainment or communications, said Dan Hagan, VP-research at Chilton Research Services in Radnor, Pa. A Chilton survey found that video on demand, educational programs and customized news services will be the three most popular applications for interactive TV.

Although many people expect interactive media to emerge quickly, interactive technology has been developing for years and will continue to evolve, said Andrew Sernovitz, president of the 7-month-old ITA, based in Washington.

"With interactive, it's half new technology and half new versions of existing products," Mr. Sernovitz said. "What's scary in this business is the sheer quantity of human and financial capital put into this ... We're talking about billions of dollars."

Even so, technological innovations are only as useful as consumers allow them to be.

"It's not high technology moving into your home; it's you controlling it," said Lila Everett, VP-marketing and communications at Your Choice TV, which reruns certain TV programs for a fee to interactive cable subscribers. "Passive TV viewing will still exist in the interactive world."

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