Interactive tv

A young child touching an interactive television in the modern age.


The purpose of this dossier project is to investigate and research the development of Interactive television (iTV) from a historical lens during it's early successful and popular initiation (Winky Dink and You) to where technology has taken the idea of interactivity today. Interactive television (iTV), or enhanced television (eTV), is any television or video programming that incorporates enhanced content or some style of user interactivity toward the content of the show (Lu, 2005). Treatments of interactive television in the popular press could easily lead readers to think that it is an entirely new phenomenon or, indeed, that it has yet to arrive on the scene (Elmer-Dewitt, 1993). However, ITV has been tested in the marketplace under various forms of presentation since the early 1950's.

This investigation into interactive TV aims to understand the definitional issue of what interactivity means in entertainment and how it is applied to certain examples. Also, how new interactive services provided today could have been tested before, through an earlier generation of technology. In order to accomplish this, the dossier will utilize a media archaeological framework to make claims and arguments about the components of interactive television and the significance it has on entertainment. According to media theorist Friedrich Kittler, "it is we who adapt to the machine. The machine does not adapt to us. Media are not pseudopods for extending the human body. They follow the logic of escalation that leaves us and written history behind it." The contemporary interactive dependence with devices have caused an adaption that has escalated since the early development of television. Kittler warns about many dystopian characteristics through the increasing parallels of technology and their eventual 'control of society'. Kittler suggested we are not masters of our technological domain, but we are it's pawns. We lack control of our technological domain, technology controls and changes us as we adapt to it's conditions. Marshall McLuhan described media content as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. McLuhan also brings up the lightbulb, as being a profound invention that changed people's lives. Though, unlike the television, the lightbulb lacks content, but is a central innovation in technological history. Both the lightbulb and the television create an environment by their presences, but the television and other devices may blind us to how it has changed who we are. We are immersed in the technology of devices that we sometimes forget to think about how and why we are using it. The lightbulb has been an invention we use everyday of our lives, even longer than a lot of technologies, though it is regarded as less significant because we forget the importance it has on society. Television on the other hand, has provided content to occupy our time and entertain us, so there is an importance factor. The subsequent sections will shed light on early developments of interactivity, their changing landscape into more contemporary times, how the world would be different if interactive media was never developed, and where we are going in the future with interactivity.

Television of the 1950's


A family in the 1950's enjoying the new invention of television.

The vast development of television by the start of the 1950's swept through homes across the United States, giving families a new outlet of entertainment. Instead of going to the theater, the invention of television allowed families to bond in their home environment and have more family time without leaving their home. Television was the most influential innovation of the 1950's and advertising on TV proved to be a viable medium. Television have become persuasive in the American culture since the 1940's. The number of households with at least one TV set grew from 1 million to 44 million from 1949 to 1969 (Jagga-Narang). The effect on print news media and entertainment media was felt in lower attendance at movies and a greater reliance on television sources for information. Commercial advertising had a mass effect on American society and consumer culture. The main purpose of television programming was to create an audience for product advertisements (Kenneth, 1996). Research conducted from the 1950's onward, when television reached the mass market, there was a collective 'coming together' of the family around the set, with living spaces being arranged to create the family room (Spigel, 1992). In contrast, today there is no more popularity with the family room. Laptops, tablets, phones, and other electronic devices allow people to watch movies and television shows on the go, rather than in the cozy comforts of their homes. The inclusion of more interactivity from the 1950's forward, changed the landscape of television and other devices. Furthermore, the 1950's is known as a crucial decade for the market of television and also the development of the very first interactive television show; Winky Dink and You.

Winky Dink Interactive Television Show


This young child is participating in Winky Dink Interactive TV. Circa 1953

In the 1950s, a simple but clever form of interactive television was created in the CBS children's series Winky Dink And You (1953-1957) (Brown, 1992). This was the first ever interactive show to be offered to an audience in the comfort of their living room. The interaction was created through the use of a plastic sheet that could be applied over the television screen. The Winky-Dink interactive set could be purchased at stores or sent through the mail. In the program, a cartoon character named Winky-Dink and his dog Woofer encountered many problems. For example, a tiger might chase Winky-Dink to the edge of a cliff. Children were asked to help Winky-Dink by using a special crayon to draw a bridge on the plastic screen so that he could escape from the tiger (Carey, 1995). Children were able to experience a form of interaction that was different from what they have ever been offered before. The program became very successful during the 1950's because of its new never before seen interactive marketing scheme. The success of Winky Dink and You's interactivity lay with the use of the fixed point on the screen. Animation was designed specifically so that the child's drawing remains in the same place, with the action continuing around it, demonstrating an illusion that the drawing has contributed to the story (Smith, 2002). The power of this show for the time period was in part because the child actually believed they were apart of the story and adventures.
Winky Dink

Host Jack Berry, Winky Dink and kids. After all the hype, promises, and experimentation for decades, it looks as if interactive television is growing to become a $20 billion dollar venture.

Since Winky Dink and You a lot has changed with the interactive media platform. The progression throughout the years of development and testing of products on an audience has served to better formulate and invent interactive media and entertainment that is beneficial and worthwhile to society. For instance, In the mid 1960's, media theorist Marshall McLuhan noted that we tend to fill new media with content from earlier media (McLuhan, 1964). Every proposed service for interactive television is a modified form of something that exists already, such as movies-on-demand, which is really a video rental service directly in your home, or interactive home shopping channels being a variation of regular catalogue shopping. The first step in the long chain of interactive development started with Winky-Dink Interactive Television in 1953 and has led interactivity through multiple generations of tests to where they are at today. Interactive media plays a huge role in society for a means of communication, effective learning, entertainment, and overall efficiency of technology. Consumers appetite for interactive based media such as television and games has grown along with their ability to use the interactive devices (Carey, 1995). Eventually, Winky-Dink and you would end it's successful television run in 1957. Though, in 1969 there was a rendition of Winky-Dink that was revisited by Barry, as a five minute cartoon feature with a new kit of supplies. Unlike the contemporary forms of interactive media, Winky Dink and You proved to be successful even though it was a simple and elementary concept. Today, our interactivity is driven by technology and the necessity to stay current and utilize all the new knowledge about these devices as we can. Fifty to sixty years ago interactivity was in the infant stages of production and development. Though, as time goes on and systems are tested multiple times through different audiences, more complex and interactive environments emerge.

How Interactivity Has Changed


In the 1970's QUBE was the first commercial interactive TV service.

After the rise and fall of the first successful interactive television show, interactivity began to change throughout the decades. What started as a simplistic, easy to understand television for the initial experimentation into interactivity, led to other media platforms trying to engage their audiences through interactive entertainment. During the 1970's, The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (DHEW) supported several tests of interactive television for health care (Park, 1974); a large commercial test of interactive cable TV received considerable attention (Becker, 1987); and in the U.K., an interactive text service that could be displayed on TV sets, Viewdata, was developed, tested and marketed under the commercial name Prestel (Aumente, 1987).

The development of the Prestel system in 1979 proved important for later commercial systems that would be marketed in the future. First, Prestel could be hooked up to the television set, which was connected to a terminal that received information from a remote database via a telephone line. Next, the service offered thousands of pages ranging from consumer data to financial information with a limited number of graphics. Prestel was very similar to early computer systems that would provide numerous amounts of data and other sensitive information. This goes to show, interactive digital television can be seen as the product of the convergence of computer communications and broadcast television. Torris (2000) defines interactive digital television as relying on a number of main qualities: a combined box that delivers digital broadcasts, pay TV, and interactivity, those interactive services carried in the broadcast signal, and an interactive return channel through phone or cable wires. The element of interactivity not only changed the face of technology but fostered a shift in viewing habits, transforming those 'couch potatoes' of yesterday into full participants that are in charge of their own viewing experience (Sorcher, 2000). In a similar way, 1953's Winky Dink and You brought the viewing experience of a television show off the couch, allowing the audience to interact and participate in the visual lessons on TV. As we progress over 60 years later, interactivity is being used to benefit and educate the viewer by aiming to cater to their needs and demands.

Another interactive development, Warner Amex's Qube system received a great deal of press attention during the late 1970's. It encountered a number of obstacles but was also a showcase of what was possible and an important source of learning about ITV. The first obstacle was the cost of Qube technology; it was a very expensive installment. The Qube terminal in homes cost approximately $200, which was more than four times the cost of a regular cable box, and Qube equipment added approximately $2-3 million in plant costs (Carey, 1995). There were a number of problems with the Qube system, though it was an important invention that would introduce many interactive formats that have evolved in cable and broadcast programming today. For instance, MTV and Nickelodeon, two very popular cable services in the U.S. were both developed from models that originated on Qube (Carey, 1995). Though, the low production values and problems with data challenged Qube technology. Furthermore, it is crucial that interactive media is developed in a stable thriving economic environment with technical context. Past interactive tests on different media platforms have shown there is a challenge when creating a new medium because audiences have to change their media habits and learn the new system; which can prove to be negative if the function and usability becomes an issue.


Advanced interactive technology of today.

Interactive Television : The End of TV as we know it?

 'Is there a life after television?' What will TV of the future look like? Or, more radically, has TV as we know it a future as a medium at all? Television as we know it is broadcast to a large section of the public. As such, it is generally described and thought of as a one-way, passive medium. According to Freed (2000), this very passivity was at the core of the advertising strategy of television networks. Overall, despite the current craze surrounding new media, TV is still the most watched and trusted source of information in the U.S. Ninety-three percent of Americans watch a network television program in the course of a week, and sixty-nine percent say TV is the most trusted source of information (Benton Foundation, 2000). Today, digital programs such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Crackle, and other online interactive streaming networks have challenged normal television viewership. Unlike twenty years ago, the modes of entertainment are endless and they offer other viable options to view the content besides a television.

 Moreover, on the opposite end of the spectrum, technology and interactive media offer to extend learning in early childhood settings, much the way that other materials, such as books, writing, and art materials accomplish. The active, appropriate use of technology and media can support and extend traditional materials in valuable ways. Research points to the positive effects of technology in children’s learning and development, both cognitive and social (Haugland 1999, 2000). There was the same influence sixty-three years ago with Winky Dink and You which marketed to young children and included a hands on learning experience that developed their listening and learning skills. In the future, more applications of interactive learning will dominate the educational system in America. Children are growing up in an era of consistent technological developments that allow them to learn faster and more efficiently. Though, research on distance education using electronically mediated communication channels shows that important communication clues tend to be filtered out when communication between teachers and students is electronically mediated (Culnan, 1987). These issues still arises today, as some students learn differently and require another form of medium beside strictly electronic for their learning purposes.

 Furthermore, interactivity can also encompass other important areas that are making life much easier. Releasing films digitally via digital interactive television is an advantage that allows small films to be seen much more widely. Also, elimination of wear and tear problems with external media players and DVD copies. Another significant advantage of online interactive cinema and video services is the possibility to individualize programs to meet your own personal genre or a particular audience. For example, Oxygen, an interactive television network "by women, about women, and for women" (Schlotter, 2001). They aim not only to produce dramas and offer news and magazine shows, but also respond closely to the audience's demands on their interactive web site. More recently, the development of Netflix in 2007 has brought interactivity to a new level when it comes to viewing television shows, movies, documentaries, and anything else that catches the eye. Categories on the video service are arranged according to the subscribers recent watch history, filtering anything without specific similarities to those programs. In retrospect, this makes interacting much more effective to the subscriber.

 The medium of television is still striving as many people watch traditional broadcast media through the TV. Though, on the other hand, more people are also watching television content on other devices such as tablets and phones. The creation of interactive services enhance the television-watching experience even if people prefer to use different devices besides a television set (Cesar, 2009). Developing valued content is key, also understanding the viewer and their range of devices to access that content becomes vitally important for research and insights about future interactive developments of entertainment. Interactivity has come a long way since the early 1950's. The future of interactive services is bright as the field of study into the content, system designs, and viewing applications grow through a rapidly changing landscape of different media.


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