It's Official: Couch Potatoes Will Inherit the Earth!

Interactive TV will reach 10 million viewers by 2002, but a new report from Forrester Research, Inc. concludes that television providers and interactivity vendors have completely misunderstood the promise of the new medium. For interactive television to succeed, programmers must embrace lazy interactivity---an approach designed for TV viewers of short attention spans.

"To succeed on TV, an interactive application needs to work for viewers who have a remote in one hand and a beer in the other," stated Josh Bernoff, principal analyst in Forrester's People & Technology Strategies service and author of Lazy Interactive TV. "Our research revealed plenty of elaborate attempts at interactivity, but strangely, very few of the early players have recognized the commerce potential for quick-hit, one-button mini-applications that are most likely to attract TV viewers."

Led by first-generation electronic program guides, lazy interactivity will eventually extend to commercials and other quick-hit applications, like buy-the-CD on MTV and responding to talk-show opinion polls. These applications will offer a natural extension of viewers' point-and-click activities without demanding too much thought or effort.

Several recent developments are accelerating the maturation of interactive TV. The promise of advanced functionality is being reinforced by the emergence of new consumer platforms, including WebTV and PCs with TV-tuner cards. Meanwhile, the adoption of Internet protocols for interactive content ensures a standard format for uniform delivery. The key to interactive TV's success, however, will be the arrival of digital cable, which provides a two-way connection with viewers.

"After a lot of frustrating early attempts, all the elements are falling into place to deliver on the promise of interactivity," said Bernoff. "The major technology, content, and delivery players recently agreed on a standard---ATVEF---that builds on Internet protocols. When combined with the digital cable rollouts planned for the next several years, interactive content coded to the standard will start popping up in commercials, news and weather programming, sportscasts, and talk shows."

With WebTV projecting 800,000 viewers by year's end and America Online developing its own TV service, the audience for interactive television is showing signs of real growth. However, WebTV's and AOL's early lead won't last. Digital cable rollouts scheduled to begin next year will make interactive TV available to the masses. By 2002, Forrester predicts, nearly all of the 6 million digital cable subscribers will click into interactive TV services.

"Interactive television promises to refocus consumer attention on the tube," Bernoff added. "By offering a point-and-click environment that engages viewers on multiple levels, interactive TV could solve the problem of fragmenting audience attention. The net result: TV will regain viewers who are now drifting toward PC screens."

Forrester interviewed more than 50 television producers, advertising agencies, cable operators, and interactive product developers for its Lazy Interactive TV report. Of the TV programmers interviewed, 25% believe that more than half of the programming in 2001 will have an interactive component.