NBC to roll out interactive programming

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It's the Peacock's turn to wink at interactive television.

NBC plans Monday to announce a programming partnership with Wink Communications that will add interactive elements to some network programming.

Beginning in the fall, some viewers will be able use their remote controls to check statistics during sports events, guess whether a suspect is guilty or innocent during "Homocide," get a recipe or weather update during "Today," get more information and coupons during "smart commercials" or buy T-shirts and other merchandise.

NBC already offers interactive programming and advertising through Intercast, which allows viewers watching TV on personal computers to access online content, and on the Internet. NBC programs offering special programming online line including "The Tonight Show," "Profiler," "The Pretender" and "Homocide." Material from the web can easily be translated for Wink viewers, NBC said.

"The web is fine for some things, but for broadcast video, Wink is the solution," said Peg Murphy, manager, business development, NBC Interactive Media.

An advantage of Wink, NBC executives said,, was that the technology enabled the network to begin experimenting with interactive television right away and without extracting high up-front costs to consumers.

Wink's ITV Enhanced Broadcasting Technology is based on a program that piggybacks on computer chips built into new set-top cable boxes being deployed now and television sets that will be available in 1998. The program enables viewers to see and respond to interactive programming carried in the video blanking interval.

The system works with both analogy and digital broadcast signals.

About 100,000 cable subscribers will be able to receive the Wink programming at launch. That will rise to 800,000 by year end. In 1998, NBC expects 4 million homes to be able to use the interactive service.

The cable operators have been persuaded to let Wink onto their set top boxes. Allan Thygesen, vice president of Wink, said cable operators can use Wink to sell both premium channels and pay-per-view movies. Wink also lets cable operators create text-only channels that can provide information services. Cable operators also get a fee when their PPV back office is used to record NBC merchandise orders.

For now, NBC is not offering Wink via DBS. Affiliates can use Wink locally to add interactive elements to their newscasts and ads.

Investors in Alameda, Cal.-based Wink include set top box and television makers including Scientific-Atlanta, General Instruments and Toshiba and the company makes money from selling licenses to its programs to those types of equipment makers.

NBC plans to make money through advertising and merchandise sales. In a demonstration, viewers can find out the exact size of a GE dishwasher and get a $75 coupon towards purchase. But NBC said no advertisers have yet signed up for "Smart ads."

The system has been in test for the last couple of months with two cable operators in fewer than 1,000 homes.

Mr. Thygesen said Wink is talking to other broadcast and cable networks about adding its interactive elements to their programming.

This story originally ran in Electronic Media.

Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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