MEDIA GIANTS NEAR PACT FOR INTERACTIVE TV RULES: WILL SET TECH STANDARDS FOR PROGRAMMING, ADS

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Microsoft Corp., NBC, Walt Disney Co., Intel Corp. and other entertainment and media companies are close to agreeing to work together to create technical standards for the design, delivery and display of interactive TV programming and advertising.

Others involved, according to two executives familiar with the plans, include CNN; Nielsen Media Research; Public Broadcasting Service; USA Networks; Washington Post Co.; Viacom's Paramount Pictures, MTV and Spelling Entertainment divisions; Ziff-Davis; and at least two dozen other companies.

COLBY INVOLVED

At least one ad agency, Colby Effler & Partners, Santa Monica, Calif., a unit of Japan's giant Dentsu, is on the list, one of the executives said.

Agency President Don Effler confirmed his agency was part of the discussions, noting introductions were made through Microsoft, which Dentsu represents in some international markets.

The agreement could be announced as soon as this week.

The plan is to have a draft of the standards completed in time for the annual meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters in April.

Under the plan, producers of interactive content-including interactive ads-will only have to create content once but will be able to deliver it a number of ways.

Interestingly, the framework will be built on current Internet standards, such as HTML and JavaScript, adapted to the needs of interactive TV production. The interactive content could be viewed on regular TVs equipped with advanced set-top boxes, digital TV or computers.

Interactive TV, for purposes of the standards, would include tie-ins between TV programs and Web sites, as well as the simultaneous viewing of a regular TV signal plus multimedia enhancement.

For the consumer, the technical aspects of the delivery will be transparent.

NIELSEN READIES SOFTWARE

The talks about standards come at the same time Nielsen is set to disclose it has created, with Microsoft's help, proprietary software allowing Nielsen to measure viewer usage of interactive TV.

"If a viewer is watching `Friends' and an interactive ad for Ford comes on, and the viewer then pushes buttons to respond to the ad, advertisers and the networks need to follow the viewer and know what he or she is watching," said an executive familiar with the software. "That's what's this software does."

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