Interactive game channel to be tested

40,000 in Howard, Harford to be part of Comcast trial

November 07, 2003|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Hoping to expand its offerings in the fledgling world of interactive television, Comcast Cable will test an interactive game channel in Howard and Harford counties starting early next month.

The Buzztime Trivia Channel, which offers six categories of trivia games with real-time competition, will get a trial run in the 40,000 households in counties that have Comcast's digital service, the Philadelphia-based cable operator said yesterday.

The channel was created by Buzztime Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of NTN Communications, which has run a network of trivia games in more than 3,000 bars and restaurants across the country for two decades.

Through its technical trial with Comcast, Buzztime is trying to break into cable television in a big way.

The California company was able to persuade Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, to try out its channel after getting a favorable reception to it over the past year on two smaller systems, one run by Susquehanna Communications in York and Williamsport, Pa., and the other by Time Warner Cable of Maine in Portland, Maine, said Tyrone Lam, Buzztime's president and chief operating officer.

"We've been waiting for the day to have the ability to put this on the TV in the home," he said. "It represents an opportunity now to learn what cable subscribers want to do on their TVs. For years, we've heard the hope and promise and hype about interactive TV, and it has finally happened."

Cable companies, for their part, are anxious to add interactive programming to compete with the Internet and even telephone companies that want to offer interactive entertainment, said Robert Rosenberg of Insight Research Corp., a telecommunications analysis business in Boonton, N.J.

"Interactivity is something the cable operators have been talking about for many years," he said. "It's important for them to become increasing interactive because the principal competition in that sphere are the telephone companies who want to compete with them.

"Also, the Internet is tremendously subversive to the cable industry," he said. "Everything they represent is threatened by the Internet. The Internet has an infinite menu of interactive games, where cable providers could only provide small slice of that at any time."

Using their remote controls, players will be able to choose from categories including TV, history, kids, music, sports and general trivia. Games run every 15 minutes, with each question popping up on the screen for about a minute, along with clues. The faster a player chooses correctly from five options, the more points he gets. Names of the top 10 players are displayed after each game.

"Buzztime is different from traditional channels, in that we consider this part of our new products and interactive strategy," said Anthony Antonelli, Comcast's marketing director.

"This is a true interactive application ... [viewers] communicate back and forth with us and others by playing against them. We think this is just the beginning of interactive television."

Buzztime operates on a traditional cable revenue model, with three tiers. With the Buzztime Trivia Channel, the cable TV operator pays licensing fees. That's the model that will be used in the Howard and Harford tests.

In the second tier, one which Buzztime has not yet rolled out, money would come in from gamers who participate in pay-to-play events. Yet another tier, also in the works, would include advertising on the channel.

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