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Interactive programming vpart of HDTV’s bigger picture


Interactive programming
part of HDTV’s bigger picture
Advancements in home entertainment technologies and a desire to stick closer to home have many Central Pennsylvanians subscribing to digital broadcasting services and purchasing the first wave of futuristic televisions.
Steve Sauertieg, manager of the Mechanicsburg Tweeter home entertainment store, has seen an increase in sales of home entertainment systems since 9/11.
He said instead of spending money on travel, his customers are buying more projection, liquid crystal display and plasma televisions.
“We are riding the crest of a small wave that will no doubt become a huge wave,” Sauertieg said. “People are fascinated by HDTV.”
The difference between an HDTV display and that of a standard picture tube exists within the number of lines projected onto the screen. A standard tube television projects up to 300 lines upon the screen.
HDTV screens present up to 1,080 lines of viewing resolution. Couple the advanced resolution with new monitor technologies, such as liquid crystal display or plasma displays, and you can see price swings from $1,000 for a 27-inch digital television with a standard tube to $10,000 for a 60-inch flat-panel plasma display.
A plasma display monitor uses trapped gas to create color. The advantage of plasma televisions is the ability to manufacture a nearly flat monitor that can be placed, or hung, almost anywhere.
“Our business is driven by technology,” said Sauertieg. “If there’s something new, people want it.”
As the televisions supporting the new technologies become more popular, prices will decrease. Last year a 42-inch plasma television cost $14,000. This year, the cost of that same set has been reduced to $7,000.
“It’s those kinds of jumps that we’re going to see on a monthly basis,” said Sauertieg. The same people seem to buy the latest gear, and it’s those people who lead the way for price reductions in the future, he said. “They blaze the trail.”
As more sets are capable of employing new standards, broadcasters and entertainment producers will create more programming using the new technologies.
Also, with an increase in the number of households employing these technologies, new applications appear to put the sets to good use.
In June, York’s SusCom Digital Cable launched the latest in interactive home entertainment.
Buzztime is a live multi-player trivia cable channel offered in the United States. Basic digital subscribers will be able to play along in real-time trivia competitions with neighbors and friends across town, and eventually, across the country. Buzztime offers six trivia categories, from sports to entertainment to kids’ trivia.
Dan Templin, SusCom’s national vice-president of marketing and programming, said his company has been working with NTN Wireless Interactive for about seven months to produce the trivia-game programming.
This isn’t the first foray into interactive programming for SusCom. In November, SusCom began to offer its Classic Game Sweep programming, which pits a single player against a computer in classic video-arcade-style games.
The new offerings are proving popular.
“We have seen that what we have gotten is a 15 to 20 percent unique home play on a weekly basis,” said Templin. “Average daily play is 45 minutes. It’s extremely high. We thought it would take a lot longer to achieve that kind of saturation with our customers.”
SusCom had also offered a form of home-shopping, or t-commerce, featuring products from distributors such as Amazon, Borders, Lands End, and L.L. Bean. The t-commerce offering ended in February but is expected to return.
SusCom is working with ITV, a branch of Sony Interactive, to develop a digital terminal that will make new offerings possible by the end of the year. The York company also is rolling out video-on-demand as soon as November. By the end of 2002, high-definition broadcasting will be available through SusCom’s infrastructure.
SusCom has captured 70 percent of its possible market. Of the 120,000 potential clients, SusCom has already reached 91,000 subscribers. The York company expects up to 1 percent growth annually.
On the downside, cable and satellite broadcasters are experiencing a tug of war with networks that are dramatically increasing rights fees, which is the single highest cost to providers.
Templin said that subscribers would notice an annual increase in their subscription pricing.
“We’re under a bit of a squeeze.” He said ESPN is a good example of the contest to capture entertainment dollars. ESPN has increased its rights fees by 20 percent.
“We’re trying to keep networks from doing what we feel are unreasonable increases,” said Templin. He said SusCom is looking to offset this trend initially by moving in the direction of more pay-per-use programming.
Over the next five years, he said, the market will “come into line.”
“We’ll have to make some very hard decisions as to what networks we offer.”

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