The Software Society

How digital technology is changing our culture and economy

Interactive TV programs: A new genre?

TV is evolving to allow watching What You Want When You Want (let’s call it “WYW2”). For example, Google’s inexpensive Chromecast is a device that plugs into compatible TV sets and lets you stream content to the TV through an app on a smartphone as well as asking for viewing options by voice. Comcast Cable’s Xfinity TV, launched in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, includes a new X1 remote control app for an Apple iPhone that allows customers to find content through motion, gesture, and voice control.

WYW2 adds to conventional TV choices the digital content we can get on our PCs and mobile devices. The extensive content motivates voice interaction in “natural language” to find shows (just say What You Want), and voice control is explicitly included in most announced “next-gen” TV plans.

The option to interact easily with a TV (as opposed to the limitations of classical remote controls) raises an interesting possibility. Does it create a new category of programming that blurs the boundary between TV and games? The distinction in the past between games and TV programs seems to be that TV viewing is passive–essentially no interaction–and games are intensely interactive. Is there something between these extremes that voice interaction with TVs makes possible? Something that creates new opportunities for creative content?

I believe so. I suggested in The Software Society that the maturing of speech understanding allowed such an intermediate model, one with moderate interaction with a viewer that impacts what is essentially a video show. An example I gave was a murder mystery where the viewer is the detective and “interviews” suspects in some scenes to find the villain.

A well-designed interactive show might even encourage multiple viewings to see what happens when the viewer responds in a different way. An ad that viewers might watch repeatedly to see alternative responses would certainly be an enticing concept to ad agencies. A “help assistant” that shows you videos on how to use a device, software package, or service–while allowing you to ask questions and influence what is shown–is another attractive option. The use of a near-talking remote (e.g., a smartphone) and advanced speech recognition in the network make complex and natural interaction technically feasible, as today’s personal assistants on smartphones demonstrate.

The current trend in TV control enables new alternatives between passive watching and game-like intensity. What You Want is a moving target.

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