Zing folds interactive TV venture

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By Kim Cleland

Zing Systems once hoped to place its play-along interactive TV devices in millions of homes. But the Tele-Communications Inc.-backed venture is now dead, a victim of legal and financial problems.

"We had to close our doors," said a former Zing employee. "It's highly unlikely that we'd ever resurface again."

Zing, formed in 1992, had been scouting for at least $100 million in additional funding after potential investor ITT Corp. backed out in September.

Last July Zing settled a lawsuit regarding patent infringement with another TCI-backed venture, Interactive Network, which has since folded as well.

Zing ran out of money and couldn't make payrolls on a regular basis, said an executive close to the company.

"The failure of low-level interactive TV tests like IN and Zing doesn't impact our view of the future," said a TCI spokeswoman. "TCI believes strongly in interactive TV."

Zing's other backers included Continental Cablevision, Comcast Corp. and several Wall Street investors.

Despite its financial setbacks, Zing advertised its interactive TV product in a fall edition of the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog--although it was "not in stock" when Advertising Age tried to order one.

A print and broadcast campaign from Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, was completed in October but never ran. The agency declined to comment.

Although the system never actually launched, Zing had been running tests allowing viewers to interact with game shows, sports and TV spots via remote control. USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel, the Family Channel and the Discovery Channel, among others, had committed to encoding their programming with Zing's technology.

The Ad Council said it would encode some public service announcements with Zing technology. Zing had been working with Marlin Entertainment, New York, to sell the system to additional advertisers.

"This low-level TV screen interactivity is proving to be a pretty uncompelling product," said Gary Arlen, president of Bethesda, Md.-based consultancy Arlen Communications. "The industry was just blown a one-two punch--first the Interactive Network and now Zing."

Copyright December 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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