Sydney, Australia -- Can it be that the long promised
interactive-TV future has finally arrived in Australia?
If a number of key technology firms that demonstrated their
wares to television companies at this year's Broadcast Australia trade show have
their way, that future could come as early as this year.
Australia's terrestrial networks aren't mandated
to begin digital transmissions until January 2001. But a government committee is debating
the regulatory guidelines for enhanced television, datacasting and other over-the-air
interactive services, and the broadcasters are building their business cases for the
launch of digital TV. That could mean that supply contracts aren't far away.
Australia's pay-TV operators also want to provide
enhanced services that will bolster the attractiveness of their channels in the new
digital environment and build on the 900,000 consumers they've attracted over the
last three years.
California-based Open TV, the proprietary enhanced-services
platform, is negotiating for its service to be available on United International
Holding's Inc.'s Austar platform, which reaches 205,000 wireless subscribers in
Cable & Wireless Optus Ltd. CEO Chris Anderson called
for the establishing of open standards for a variety of digital devices, and loud debate
arose at Broadcast Australia about the virtue of Internet services on TV versus the
proprietary system of interactive services that Open TV promotes.
"These are great technologies, even compelling
technologies, but if anything can be called the killer app, it is interoperability,"
Anderson said C&W Optus, Australia's major
satellite operator, is testing interactive, digital-satellite services in Western
Australia and Sydney, and the company aims to bring a set-top box onto the market later
this year that will be able to deliver video, voice and data capable. It will also be
compliant with Digital-Video Broadcasting, or DVB, standards.
Australian telco giant Telstra, which is the largest
shareholder of the cable-systems company Foxtel, demonstrated its new baby, Big Pond TV.
Big Pond is Telstra's broadband-Internet brand and is designed to work over its
broadband-cable system, as well as over satellite platforms and terrestrial broadcasters.
Telstra is testing both Microsoft's Web TV Networks
Web TV and Oracle Enhanced TV, both Internet-over-TV services, to see if either system can
be adapted for use in a commercial rollout of Big Pond TV.
"Telstra believes that interactive television has the
potential to double the on-line market," said Stokes McKeon, Telstra's managing
director of Internet and data services.