SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2001/E Sports

WebTV, CBS try interactive hoops

CBS and Microsoft WebTV Networks will bring interactive programming to NCAA basketball telecasts beginning in February, one element of their planned 500 hours of interactive programming in various categories this year.

The roughly 1 million homes equipped with Microsoft's WebTV Plus and Ultimate TV services will have access to real-time statistics, trivia, polling and other features during games, starting with regular-season matchups and including all 63 NCAA tournament games. Similar programming was produced with the Oakland A's last summer and around NCAA football last fall. Users with other enhanced-TV systems using the ATVEF protocol will see a less-enhanced version of the programming.

"These are small numbers in terms of the overall TV universe, but it's important to get people involved in many different areas right now," said Joe Poletto, vice president of Microsoft's network media group. "We know that users of this service spend an average of 20 minutes on a program, whereas the average time viewing non-interactive programming is under 10 minutes."

Poletto and CBS executives would not disclose the terms of the arrangement, but Poletto said, "It's a shared partnership in terms of revenue and marketing."

"This is research and development right now, and our goal is to learn as much as we can about what the viewing experience can be with interactive TV," said David Katz, CBS vice president of strategic planning and interactive ventures. The programming will be promoted on CBS' broadcasts, and Katz said it's possible there also will be promotion on SportsLine.com, of which CBS owns 22 percent. "That will be worked out closer to the events," Katz said.

Katz said interactive advertising is a goal of the project, but to date none had been pitched for the NCAA programming. Other revenue sources could be tapped eventually, he said. Tickets were sold during the A's interactive telecasts last summer.

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