Wink Communications Inc. finally launched its
enhanced-broadcast-television service last week in InterMedia Partners' Kingsport,
The move came after years of lining up cable and broadcast
programmers, lining up consumer-electronics and set-top vendors and signing cable-operator
Several other launches are expected by year-end, Wink
Last Monday, Wink fired up to some 8,000 customers in
InterMedia's "tricity" region, which serves about 32,000 customers in
Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol, Tenn. The MSO is using General Instrument
Corp.'s CFT-2200 advanced-analog set-tops there.
InterMedia is the first MSO taker for Wink's
technology, which resides in a small segment of set-top memory and which lets customers
grab extra information about a program -- without leaving the TV screen -- by clicking on
a flashing "i" in a corner of the screen.
Using Wink, InterMedia customers will be able to order
premium-channel upgrades, participate in polls and quizzes and textually catch up with
programs when they've missed the beginning.
Katie Sullivan, vice president of marketing for Wink, said
last week's launch followed an employee trial that started in late April. Wink fired
up a second batch of boxes in customer homes in June, "primarily to make sure that we
wouldn't barrage the customer-service desk with calls."
After a "completely painless" turnup, with new
boxes firing up every three seconds, InterMedia's customers are now using the service
free-of-charge, executives said.
Craig Perica, general manager of the Kingsport system, said
he was proud to "take center stage on the digital frontier" by becoming the
first cable operator to officially launch the Wink service.
Currently, 11 networks are broadcasting with enhanced Wink
content on 14 shows, Sullivan said. Among the shows are NBC's The Tonight Show
with Jay Leno; TBS Superstation's "Dinner & a Movie" block and The
Andy Griffith Show; sports events on ESPN; CNN Headline News; The Nashville
Network's Primetime Country; and The Weather Channel.
Now that Wink is finally up and running, Sullivan said,
plans are under way to revisit the system June 29 to conduct a "comprehensive
survey" about how the service is being received by InterMedia's customers.
"Our objective is for a 2,000-home sample to gauge
awareness and usage," Sullivan said.