The viability of interactive sports television will finally
get a rigorous consumer test in the Dallas/Houston area, when Tele-Communications Inc.
debuts ACTV Inc. as part of its digital rollout there.
ACTV will offer four different interactive settings for Fox
Sports Southwest's professional-team telecasts -- as well as some local college games
and other live programming -- to TCI's 425,000 area subscribers, once digital boxes
are deployed, said David Reece, president of ACTV Entertainment.
The settings could range from a isolated shot of a star
player, to that player's year-to-date and lifetime statistics, to replays of a
game's most exciting scoring plays.
The four settings will vary from game to game and sport to
sport, he added.
For Fox Sports, the deal improves the viewer's
experience when watching its live sports productions, said Jon Heidtke, general manager of
Fox Sports Southwest.
While ACTV will be part of TCI's aggressive digital
rollout, it will not be a part of its Headend in the Sky package, Reece said. Instead, the
interactive technology will be compatible with General Instrument Corp.'s digital
set-top terminals, and ACTV will compress the signal before it reaches TCI's headend.
'We'll take up the equivalent of one analog
channel,' he said.
The service will be sold on a premium basis for $9.95 per
month, with traditional operator splits. 'This is a real high-end service, and it
marks the future of digital,' Reece said.
But inevitably, the success of the service will be tied to
TCI's marketing of its digital programming. With its many HITS programming packages,
there has been concern among programming distributors that their message will be lost in
the digital marketing shuffle.
Reece acknowledged that TCI's marketing of the service
will be key to its success. But with the strong draw of sports, ACTV should prove to be a
key selling point for digital.
'I know how important TCI will be to our business, and
the marketing plan will maximize our opportunity,' Reece said. 'If the consumer
is as satisfied with our product as I think they will be, it will be easier for the
customer to justify the digital box.'
Representatives from TCI did not return phone calls.
While ACTV would not reveal specific numbers, Reece said
its California beta-test proved that the service is viable and attractive to fans.
Although he declined to reveal ACTV's overall penetration projections, Reece said the
network would be 'ecstatic' if it could net 10 percent of TCI's digital