What attracted the network to using TNBC as the first enhanced DTV service is that teens are ‘ready for this medium,’ says Jonathan Boltax, director of NBC’s Enhanced Broadcast Group, which is spearheading the project with partner Intel. ‘We’re already looking at a demographic that understands this space, that understands multitasking, that understands the Internet, [and] that understands that there are increasingly more ways for them to get entertained.’
For NBC, the new service is intended to heighten teens’ viewing experience during the broadcast and maintain a relationship with them throughout the week after the block is off the air.
The new service will consist of two content streams, both delivered to viewers with a DTV-compliant device and Internet connection during the TNBC broadcast. The during-the-broadcast stream will allow viewers to chat, send e-cards, post bulletin board messages and participate in watch-and-win contests. Teens will be able to access these features by clicking on an ‘i’ icon on-screen during the broadcast.
The second stream, TNBC To Go, will download during the TNBC broadcast, become available during the last episode of the block, and stay on the device throughout the week. The ‘full-on multimedia experience,’ says Boltax, will feature interviews with TNBC series stars (which proved to be the most popular section when TNBC tested the initiative last October in roughly 200 U.S. homes), discussion of the issues raised in the shows, and opportunities to enter more contests. This stream will also extend into other areas of teen interest, enabling them to watch music videos, see movie previews, hear authors talking about books that TNBC To Go is reviewing, and play video game demos. Since TNBC To Go will start downloading once viewers tune in to the block, and will only run as a whole package, ‘there is hopefully some incentive for them to tune in and stay tuned,’ says Boltax.
Boltax doesn’t know how many TNBC viewers will be able to view the streams and which device-be it a high-definition or standard-definition TV set capable of receiving a digital signal, a set-top box that attaches to existing analog TV sets, or DTV tuner cards for PCs-will be the most widely used. The Consumer Electronics Association reports that from November 1998 to the end of 1999, 120,000 DTV-compliant devices (not including DTV tuner cards for PCs) had been sold to retail in the U.S.
With 100.8 million total U.S. TV households, that figure represents very small penetration. In the short term, consumers’ motivation to purchase a device will increase only when prices come down (according to the CEA, set-top boxes range from US$600 to US$700 on average, SDTV sets US$2,000 to US$3,000, and HDTV sets US$3,000 to US$7,000) and more digital programming becomes available. However, Boltax wants to get in on the action now in order to reap long-term benefits. ‘We think it’s worthwhile for us to be early players in this,’ he says. ‘It helps us learn [and] it helps us hopefully cater to the people who do have this technology. And we’ll continue to do bigger and better things as the numbers of people who can receive this grow.’