Hongkong Telecom's iTV goes live

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HONG KONG -- Dominant Hong Kong telco Hongkong Telecom officially launched its full commercial interactive television (iTV) service March 23. The platform which passes about 500,000 (34%) of Hong Kong's 1.6 million households, plans to carry advertising from April.

The on-demand interactive service, operated by Hongkong Telecom's interactive IMS division, launched mid-February. Demand for programming has so far outstripped expectations, with an average of two titles a week per household during the five week period. This compares with forecasts of four titles per month per household, according to Hong Kong Telecom IMS Managing Director Dr. William Lo.

The basic monthly iTV charge is $26, which includes set-top box rental. A one-off installation fee of $45 will also be charged.

The promotional launch campaign offers three months service for $26 with a 50% discount on the basic monthly subscription fee for the following 12 months.

On-demand services will cost between $1 to $3.20 per title. The video-on-demand system will carry about 300 hours of programming at one time, including foreign titles from Hollywood studios such as Columbia Tristar, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Disney. About 40 hours of adult programming are offered.

iTV carries video-on-demand, music-on-demand and racing-on-demand. Other services which will be offered include home banking, network games and high-speed broadband Internet access.

Hongkong Telecom IMS plans to pass more than 85% of Hong Kong households with its fiber optic network by year end, with additional penetration via ADSL high-speed modems.

Hong Kong Telecom has invested about $168 million in interactive services in the past three years. Plans are to sink a further $1.3 billion into developing interactive capabilities. The iTV service plans to break even in three to four years, according to Dr. Lo.

Copyright March 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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