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A remote control What is interactive television?

Interactive television isn't new. Since the very earliest days of television, producers having been trying to make their programmes and channels more dynamic and participatory.

In the case of children's television, for example, the interactive element often involved desperately trying to get the viewers to sing along, jump up and down or dance around the room.

One early children’s programme pushed the boundaries of the often-passive relationship between the broadcaster and the viewer. It was called Winky Dink and You and featured the adventures of a cartoon character with a star-shaped hairdo.

American children in the 1950s were asked to help Winky Dink out of difficult situations by drawing on the television screen using special transparent sheets, which were sold in shops and by post. Viewers would draw a bridge to help Winky Dink move around and draw a parachute to stop Winky Dink crashing to the ground.

From the child's point of view at least, the fate of a television programme's star had passed into the hands of the viewer.

Adult viewers have been won over to the idea of interacting with television in a number of clever ways too. Anything and everything has been tried: asking for feedback, running prize competitions, giving out leaflets with extra information.

The telephone, in particular, has proved itself to be a powerful interactive television tool. Nearly every daytime television chat show asks viewers to ring in with their views or problems.

Recently, music channels like The Box have installed technologies that allow viewers to ring in, on a premium-rate line, to choose a video. The video is then put in a queue and eventually shown to everyone watching the channel.

Interactive television can be defined as anything that lets the television viewer or viewers and the people making the television channel, programme or service engage in a dialogue.

More specifically, it can be defined as a dialogue that takes the viewers beyond the passive experience of watching and allows them to make choices and take actions – even if the action is as simple as filling in a postcard and popping it in the mail, or drawing a picture on the television screen.

It is very recent developments in technology that have really opened up the possibilities for interactive television. In particular, digital transmission technologies have made it possible to cram a lot more information into a given piece of broadcasting space (bandwidth).

This allows broadcasters and television platform operators (cable companies for example) to more easily parcel extra information alongside the television signal, and for viewers to send information back to the television companies. By using digital and other technologies, viewers and television producers now have a myriad of new and exciting ways to interact.

To find out about the different types of interactive television, you can buy the book Interactive Television Production now or look at the links to sites that have introductions and explanations about interactive television


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