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Loads of intelligence packed in idiot box

Jim Chiddix, chairman and CEO of Open TV, the San Francisco-based digital technologies and services company, is an authority on interactive television. A cable and satellite industry expert, he pioneered the use of optical fibre in cable architecture. Before joining Open TV, Chiddix was leading Time Warner's special division that was engaged in developing server-based video-on-demand services for its customers. In India to announce Open TV's partnership with Zee Group's direct-to-home company Dish TV, Chiddix is excited about the opportunity the country's media industry offers. 'It is a fascinating market because it is large. It will be an important part of our future,' he told Shuchi Bansal.

Q: What kind of interactive services does Open TV software platform offer'

A: In the US, the company offers home shopping. You can buy merchandise from a video catalogue on your TV set. With the remote you can place an order and have the merchandise delivered home.

There is interactive advertising too. During an advertisement for an automobile brand or a movie, with the click of your remote, you can find out where's the nearest dealer or the nearest theatre. You can get more information on the car or the stars and director of the movie. You can even see a video clip of the film. We have many interactive games as well.

Echostar, which has 12 million homes, uses our platform software in the US. All Echostar customers have these services. In India, however, Dish TV will first offer interactive services to watch news and sports. You will be able to watch a cricket match from different angles and also access a host of information on the players, their history and scores as well as highlights of the match.

Q: Which is the most popular interactive service around the world'

A: Sports is the most popular interactive television service. On Echostar, for example, during the Olympic games you can watch eight events simultaneously on eight little windows on the screen.

Q: Can the mass market afford these interactive services'

A: Most of them are free and are becoming more accessible with two main growth drivers. One is the conversion to digital and the second is competition. In the US, there are two digital direct broadcast providers, Echostar and DirecTV. Then there is cable, which is competing for the same customers, looking for ways to add features that make TV more useful.

Q: What is your relationship with Dish TV'

A: We view this as a partnership. It is a commercial relationship, of course. We have every incentive to develop the best services and features we can for Dish.

It is our first business arrangement in India. It will be interesting to have other customers here. But the most interesting potential customer is Siti Cable (Zee's cable distribution arm). It is inevitable that Siti Cable and cable in general will go digital too. We see that (digital boxes for cable) as a very big market in India.

Q: Will digital boxes and personal video recorders make TV monitoring agencies redundant'

A: No. The experience in other countries is that there is always a need for an independent party to verify viewing patterns. This technology brings new tools because with the set top box it is possible to capture more information about how people are watching TV. It adds more sophistication to gathering of ratings information.

Q: How has the cable and satellite industry evolved'

A: In the US, cable has been moving towards digital for the last 7 to 8 years. Today, almost 50 per cent TV homes have at least one digital box. But 2009 is the deadline for converting everything to digital. The analogue TV stations will cease analogue operations and become digital. The reason is that the US government wants to re-capture some of the over-the-air spectrum, which is for analogue television and use it for other purposes (such as mobile TV).

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