Koplar to roll TV trial

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Enthusiasm for interactive TV has diminished over the years, dulled by hype and overzealous promotion in the 1980s, and hampered further by increased Internet use in the '90s.

However, Koplar Interactive Systems is hoping to revive interactive TV with a new patented technology and trial scheduled to launch early next year in St. Louis.

Koplar Interactive, a subsidiary of Koplar Communications and allied with KPLR-TV in St. Louis, is making deals with TV stations and programmers to install its proprietary system, InTouch TV. The technology is different than a WebTV; it inserts digital information about a product or program into an analog broadcast, cable or satellite signal. Providers or the TV station must encode the video before it is sent to viewers' homes.

So far, the only named advertiser in the test is Ralston Purina Co.

TRIAL INCLUDES 400 HOUSEHOLDS

About 400 households will be involved in the trial. Koplar is inviting advertisers to choose what kind of interactivity they want, submit the work and have it encoded at no charge. The information put onto the video can include links to the Internet, but must be relatively small because the system only has a 3,600- to 4,600-baud encoding scheme.

Jim Withers, Koplar Interactive Systems VP-operations, said the system will support Internet access, e-mail and other services as a supplement to newscasts. He said the value for advertisers is enhanced messages and the ability to track advertising effectiveness and interest.

On the viewer side, special equipment is also needed. A Koplar InTouch TV box needs to be installed, as does a special phone that also connects to the Internet.

CABLE POSES STRONG CHALLENGE

Jim Nail, analyst with Forrester Research, said while interactive TV has promise for advertisers, high-speed Internet access devices will overtake the market. Forrester estimates by 2002, more than 13.6 million U.S. households will have high-speed Internet access.

"WebTV and others like them are going to get swamped by digital cable and cable modems. We see in five years . . . these other services will be a moot point."

Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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