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The National Association of Television Program Executives will promote out-of-the-box-or more like out-of-the-TV-set-creative thinking at its convention this week by showcasing interactive TV, broadband and streaming media technologies.

Tech-oriented companies are providing new opportunities for all the groups attending NATPE-content providers, TV stations and advertisers. "Clearly, these technologies are important to the industry," says NATPE President Bruce Johansen. "We're confident that ... these companies will become more integral to our conferences in the future."

Technology has expanded its presence at the annual NATPE Conference & Exhibition over three years from three to 130 companies in 2001, says Beth Braen, senior VP-marketing at the association. For 2002, however, the sinking economy has pulled down with it the number of tech exhibitors, which NATPE said stood at close to 50 early this month; that total included 16 broadband/streaming media exhibitors.


"Everyone is looking at [travel and entertainment]. They don't want to fly executives in unless it's absolutely necessary," says Larry Jacobsen, a veteran NATPE-goer who formerly helmed News Corp.'s Fox TV network and now is president-chief operating officer of RealNetworks, a NATPE "video sponsor."

RealNetworks on Dec. 4 launched RealOne, a subscription-only Internet channel that carries content provided by sources like, CBS' Survivor Insider, CNN, E! Networks and

"People [such as TV networks executives] are either [removing] video off the Internet or putting it into subscription services," says Mr. Jacobsen, noting Fox Sports and Major League Baseball are among those forgoing free video on the Web.

On the ad side, Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, used RealOne to put together a recent campaign for Seagram Co.'s Absolut vodka. Agency Interactive Creative Director Doug Jaeger notes the technology's ability to show a full, TV-style ad, displaying graphics, text and Web site home page all at the same time.

Turning streaming media into a moneymaker may require technology like Digital Island's 2Way Web Services, a suite of modules for preparing video and music for online distribution and determining how to charge consumers for it. Digital Island's clients include Sony Pictures Entertainment and News Corp.'s British Sky Broadcasting pay-TV service.

Context Media will show its own brand of asset management and distribution services at NATPE. Context Media's clients include Herb Stevens (a.k.a. "The Skiing Weatherman"), who syndicates a package of broadcast and Internet video content to individual stations that is passed free to viewers.

Another potentially lucrative tech area lies in personal video recorders like TiVo. Content distributors love PVRs because they can target programming, which, they believe, will improve their client base and trigger more lucrative services, says Sean Badding, a VP and senior analyst specializing in new media at the Carmel Group, a research company.

But PVRs also present a number of drawbacks. For instance, the devices' fast-forward option makes it harder for content developers and advertisers to engage customers, forcing them to be more creative in their work and business models, Mr. Badding says.

PVRs also nudge the consumer one step closer to interactive TV by making "personalized" programming and advertising convenient and easy enough to be desirable. Further inroads will depend on content.

"Content is what's going to drive ITV-you're not going to get traction among consumers without the appropriate content," Mr. Badding says. "You want to overlay the content with some software and embed it with personalized data, such as weather information; consumers may want to see or information on stocks they own."

Mr. Badding's assessment is seconded by John Roberts, senior VP-interactive and online entertainment at Sony Pictures Entertainment's Game Show Network, whose interactive offerings include a game called "Greed."


"You're already seeing PVR technology being embedded into the set-top box-you don't necessarily have to go out and buy a TiVo or Replay [model]," Mr. Roberts says. He expects future set-top boxes to go head-to-head with the increasingly popular game consoles.

"We're looking to get involved in the virtual channel space," Mr. Roberts says, referring to an option more akin to a package of games than a traditional TV channel.

The push to go virtual will affect the content Game Show Network buys. "If there are two equally engaging shows and one lends itself more to interactivity, we'd probably lean more to that one," Mr. Roberts says. "It's much better to build it with interactivity from the beginning than to retrofit it."

Interactive content also lends itself to on-demand programming, proponents say. "On-demand" was almost a mantra at cable TV's Western Show in November.

"There's a bit more evangelizing to be done in the television production world," says Ron Glidden, market development manager for Sun Microsystems' Broadband & Digital Media initiative. "The vision of `on demand' hasn't really penetrated yet."

Mr. Glidden's vision goes way beyond repurposing content for instant delivery. "Producers should be thinking about how their content should be developed and packaged," he advises, noting that on-demand subscription revenue relies on customer interaction.

As for on-demand potential in advertising, Mr. Roberts says the virtual channel space will provide Game Show Network an "advergaming" opportunity to embed ads in the games on a market-by-market basis.

But, at the end of the day, NATPE's cachet as a technology showcase, says one vendor, rests on its ability to draw an audience who wants to apply its own initiatives.

"Going there is more interesting when there are [attendees] who have a very specific understanding of what they want to do and how they are going to move forward," says David Radoff, director of corporate communications at Digital Island. "They can see something that they believe they can put into effect immediately."