The last five years of digital TV in the UK have transformed viewing from a
passive experience to one where viewers have far greater control over what
they watch and when.
By Peter Feuilherade
At the IBC in Amsterdam
A lot of this is due to interactive television and the enhanced programming
and advertising it offers.
Watching replays on interactive TV is a hit
"Interactive advertising is emerging as one of the biggest revenue sources
in digital TV," said Sky Interactive managing director Ian Shepherd.
Mr Shepherd made his remarks at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam, Europe's biggest broadcasting trade fair.
Leaders in Europe
In Britain, the most advanced digital TV market in Europe, there are more than 80 channels offering either dedicated stand-alone interactive services or enhanced content with programmes.
A forthcoming survey by the London-based media analysis journal Screen
Digest gives comparable figures of 71 interactive channels in France, 37 in
Spain, 27 in Italy, and 11 in Germany.
Advertisers and broadcasters use interactive TV as a way to get more from their programmes and viewers.
Broadcasters look to interactive TV not only for new ways of making money, but also to boost ratings and widen the appeal of their channels.
The interactive TV applications that have proved most popular include films,
voting for programmes such as Big Brother, watching different camera angles and replays on sports channels.
Sports betting and on-screen gambling, interactive news, games, e-mailing and text messaging from set-top boxes to mobile phones have all proved attractive too.
For advertisers, interactive TV can help collect information about customers, so they can deepen the "brand experience", as well as just selling products.
An advertising industry spokesman told the IBC that interactive TV was making
an increasing contribution to the advertising industry.
But many clients and advertising agencies are still cautious, especially in a weak market, and they complain that their creativity is stifled by technology.
Mr Shepherd admitted that not all the British commercial digital TV interactive services have been profitable either.
Interactive shopping, for instance, has failed to capture the public's imagination as much as a stroll in person through the local shopping mall.
Maybe it has something to do with what TV is supposed to be about, argued Jesper Knutsson of the Danish company Visionik.
He warned that interactive technology should not become so intrusive that it begins to alienate viewers. People want to watch TV, and that experience should not be "ruined" he said.
But speakers at the IBC from both the broadcasting and advertising communities were agreed on one thing: the "red button blues'" of the last few years are beginning to lift.