ITV Providers Seek Consumer Feedback

12/03/2000 7:00 PM Eastern

LOS ANGELES -Cable operators, programmers and technology vendors are investing in consumer research to gauge the level of interest in interactive television services, panelists said Wednesday at the Western Show here.

In introducing ITV, "the first thing we have to remember is the consumer always wins," said AT&T Broadband vice president of market intelligence Pete Gatseos. "Just because it's technologically possible doesn't mean that the customer wants it."

Scientific-Atlanta Inc. conducts consumer focus groups and works closely with its MSO partners in an effort to keep on top of demand for ITV services. The company's market-research budget has tripled in the past year, said vice president of product marketing Bob Van Orden.

Mixed Signals works with content providers, set-top box vendors and middleware providers to help deploy services such as ITV game shows. Having multiple partners makes collecting customer feedback more complicated, said Mixed Signals CEO Alex Thompson.

"We tap customers on the shoulder and ask them to interact with us, but that allows them to ask us questions, too," Thompson said.

In interactive game shows such as
Wheel of Fortune

, for example, ITV users have asked questions like, "Who picks Vanna [White]'s dresses?"

Before these services were introduced, Thompson said, no one had budgeted for the costs of answering such questions all day long.

"As an operator, we don't want to answer those phone calls," Gatseos said. He estimated that call volume to the cable operator's centers could increase by as much as one-third "the minute we offer interactive services.

"Make some rules on-air to call

or call somebody else" about program-specific questions generated from new ITV services, Gatseos urged his fellow panelists.

With new ITV technology, software updates can be made in response to customer feedback or usage levels via downloads rather than truck rolls, said Liberate Technologies Inc. senior vice president David Limp.

But Thompson and Gatseos warned against taking away services that some customers have come to expect and enjoy.

"I don't think we think about exit strategies enough," Gatseos said. He noted that even simple changes to cable channel lineups generate more customer calls than rate increases.

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