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DELAYS HIT U.K. INTERACTIVE TV, TOO VIDEOTRON, BT TESTS STALLED, SO MARKETERS EYE CD-ROM, KIOSKS

By Published on .

Interactive TV trials in the U.K. are starting to resemble those in the U.S. in at least one way: They're being delayed.

But unlike in the U.S., where technical snafus are to blame, U.K. tests are suffering content problems.

Cable operator Videotron postponed until April the launch of an interactive TV test that Chiat/Day is working on. The test had been slated to start this month, offering Videotron subscribers in London interactive ads and programming.

But it's proving to be more complicated than anticipated for the agency and advertisers to create programming. Chiat/Day has an exclusive agreement to work with Videotron for the first month of the test and signed on Lever Bros., the Body Shop and retailer Next, among others, to create 90-second interactive ads.

Videotron already offers some interactive programming on its 70,000-subscriber cable system. Viewers can choose the camera angle during sports programming and select among news stories during a newscast.

British Telecom likewise postponed its interactive TV project for six months to mid-1995 to add more services than just video on demand. The 2,500-home trial will offer home shopping, banking and educational programing, using Oracle Corp. interactive multimedia software.

Bookstore chain W.H. Smith will sell books, compact discs and videos, and Safeway will offer a grocery service. General Motors Corp.'s U.K. subsidiary, Vauxhall Motors, is also interested in joining the test.

"We're trying to get motorcars on the list," said Mark Dickinson, new-media development director at Lowe Howard-Spink, London. "Vauxhall has done it all-floppy discs, kiosks and CD-ROM. It's a real obvious one-they have the material."

Mr. Dickinson said BT has already earmarked advertisers in three industry sectors-travel, finance and retail.

Mr. Dickinson was speaking at a Lowe Howard-Spink interactive media conference last week. Held appropriately at London's Science Museum, the daylong event drew 50 clients.

Lowe is the third agency after Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and Ogilvy & Mather to host an interactive conference in London in the past few months.

While talk of the interactive TV delays buzzed at the conference, marketers aren't sitting back and waiting. Several are testing existing technologies like kiosks and CD-ROMs.

Vauxhall and supermarket retailer Tesco are both experimenting with kiosks.

Last week, Vauxhall unveiled its Vauxhall Information Centers to six U.K. car dealers. The kiosks let potential consumers learn all about Vauxhall's numerous models, with information on pricing, safety, security, audio, color and a slew of other features.

Vauxhall is the first U.K. car marketer to use kiosks with CD-ROM, said Richard Angus, manager of marketing strategies for the automotive company.

"Dealerships aren't loaded with stock, so people can find out about a specific model at any dealer," he said, adding that the kiosks will be rolled out to all Vauxhall dealers next year if the test proves successful.

Tesco, meanwhile, has introduced kiosks offering information about wine and meat in two of its stores. Lowe Howard-Spink was recently brought in to help with the project.

While such kiosks might appeal to middle-age consumers, others think interactive media should target a younger age group.

"Unless you're interested in business-to-business, I don't think the over-30s will be interested in interactive," said Jonathan Sully, senior brand manager for Smirnoff vodka, also a Lowe client. "It's for young people. It's an ideal venue for the pop industry."

Toward that end, Mr. Sully said he plans to spend a weekend in New York, visiting music clubs to see how interactive media has penetrated the music subculture.

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