LOW-TECH TEXAS TV SERVICE PICKS UP BIG ADS

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Star Response, a basic interactive cable TV service in San Antonio, Texas, is finally catching the attention of major marketers.

20th Century Fox Film Corp. last week started an ad campaign for the Arnold Schwarzenegger film "True Lies" that lets viewers use their remote control to answer two research questions and request a free movie poster.

A similar campaign started June 17 for "Baby's Day Out," another Fox film.

Nissan Motor Corp. USA is close to signing a deal, and Star Response is in talks with a major hotel chain and a cat food marketer.

The flurry of advertiser interest comes as the promise of high-tech video on demand and interactive shopping grows more elusive every day.

"I would say that the announcement of postponements of some big [interactive TV tests] has had some effect on people's willingness to experiment with our system," said Bill Carleton, corporate manager of Star Response, a product of cable system operator KBLCOM.

The Star Response system is decidedly low-tech. The service, available since 1992, adds code numbers to certain TV commercials; a viewer enters the code on the remote to respond to an offer. Promotional materials are then mailed to the subscriber by KBLCOM.

Until now, advertiser participation has been limited to local retailers and realtors.

Nissan is exploring a range of interactive opportunities, from low-level systems like Star Response to major trials from the likes of Time Warner and Viacom, said Dick Hackenberg, account director for interactive projects at Nissan agency Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.

For Fox, Star Response developed an on-screen research quiz that viewers can respond to after viewing a 30-second movie spot. More than 1,100 responses to the "Baby's Day Out" spot came in during the first five days of the campaign.

Star Response is available in 100,000 homes. Advertisers pay for a standard cable ad schedule plus fulfillment costs for promotional materials.

Early next year, Star Response will upgrade the system to allow subscribers to purchase merchandise directly from their homes, instead of waiting for KBLCOM to tally their request and fulfill it.

"I think the timing is finally right," Mr. Carleton said. "We've been doing the voice in the desert thing, and the crowd is finally coming."

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