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What is the home entertainment center: TV or game console?

by David Mercer

It’s what Interactive TV always should have been. Endemol’s smash hit quiz show, "1 vs 100," is now available as a scheduled, interactive show to Gold members of Xbox Live in the UK. Although in beta phase, the service appears to be working well.

I suffered one connection dropout during Friday evening’s show, but otherwise was able to participate fully, first as a member of “The Crowd”, and later as one of the hundred members of “The Mob”. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, I was not selected as “The One”.

My personal background: I’m not a quiz show fan. I used to keep up with “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in its early years, and I enjoy satirical “quiz shows” like “Have I Got News For You”, but they hardly count as the same genre. I do not go out of my way to find shows in which I can answer the questions, and had not even heard of “1 vs 100” until Microsoft told the press about its launch on Xbox Live.

Some years ago, when red button services were first being rolled out across the UK’s digital TV services, early attempts were made to add interactive audience participation to quiz shows, including “Millionaire”. It was an obvious genre to target, with audiences already sitting at home shouting out answers to questions in frustration at the presumed ignorance of the on-stage participants. But the limitations of the technology, not least through the absence of broadband connectivity, meant that these early attempts were soon abandoned.

It’s ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that it has taken a games console, rather than a digital television platform, to demonstrate what interactive television could eventually become. Tens of thousands of people are now participating, live and in real time, in the same scheduled “programme”, responding to questions through their games controller, seeing themselves (well, their avator at least) on the screen, and accumulating points in competition with their remotely connected opponents.

The operation of the Xbox Live show is clearly heavily automated, and a few kinks need to be ironed out: the various warning notices and texts were barely legible on my museum piece of a 32” CRT TV, for example. I hope Microsoft is not assuming that every single 360-owner has their console HDMI-wired to a 1080p-capable 50” LCD. The pauses between “rounds” and their accompanying messages can also prove a little tiresome.

But generally this is an extremely impressive implementation, as with so many things on the Xbox Live platform. Considering this is a beta test, we can only imagine what further refinements will be made as the show evolves.

Our excitement over the technology should not cloud the inevitable doubts over business models and commercial viability. That Endemol, one of the world’s most successful independent developers, has signed up as a partner should be taken as a positive sign, although it has no doubt been suitably rewarded for its risk at this early stage.

The trick, as always, will now be to get independent advertisers to recognise the value of targeting 70,000 people (a typical number of simultaneous participants in the US version) whose profiles are well known and whose attention is as guaranteed as it ever can be by scheduled programming. No fast forwarding through these ads…

Following the recently announced plan to launch online music on the Xbox, it’s time to reconsider the term “games console”: if Live’s current progress is anything to go by, few other gadgets will deserve the term “home entertainment centre”.

Contact: twitter.com/DavidMercer_SA

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