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DSTV to launch interactive TV, bolsters M-Web

Multichoice Africa has unveiled its plans for the introduction of interactive TV in SA. Dubbed iTV for "interactive television", the first services will be delivered to DSTV subscribers in early 2002.

While traditional TV watching is a one-way transmission, with the TV signal being received by the terrestrial aerial or satellite dish, the new iTV services will utilise a feedback path from the set-top decoder which connects to Multichoice's back-end services using the telephone system.

Jonah Naidoo, GM of Multichoice Interactive, expects the first iTV services, including TV-based e-mail (TVMail), television shopping (T-commerce) and the new-look DSTV program guide (Enhanced Electronic Program Guide), to roll-out in early 2002.

Naidoo says these third-generation services would create a two-way channel of communication between the set-top satellite TV decoder and Multichoice.

He believes that cost-effective delivery of these services is made possible by leveraging dialup services, points-of-presence and "shop front" e-commerce vendors from M-Web, a Multichoice subsidiary.

Internet service provider M-Web stands to grow its subscriber base through the DSTV service since, as Naidoo confirms, TVMail would only work with an M-Web e-mail account, though it would be possible to send e-mail to any e-mail address. TVMail will not display any e-mail attachments.

Another Multichoice revenue stream would be derived from vendors with existing online stores, such as, Look & Listen and Incredible Connection, which pay a fee for displaying their shop fronts in the DSTV T-commerce interface.

According to Naidoo, DSTV expects to better retain its subscriber base by adding value to their subscription. However, this contradicts his statement that many of the interactive services, including TVMail and collaborative gaming (to be introduced later) could involve additional subscription fees.

Irdeto Access has provided the secure transaction engine for the feedback service and new DSTV decoders will use the OpenTV operating system, which includes some applications, like TVMail.

He says new DSTV subscribers will be offered a bundle including a new decoder and modem, together with the latest remote control unit and a wireless, infrared keyboard. Existing subscribers will be offered a standalone, external modem which plugs straight into the wall power supply and connects to the decoder with a serial cable.

Naidoo notes that while the interactive services are ready to go live immediately, the official launch has been delayed to allow subscribers to upgrade their decoder cards.

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