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Digital Frontier conference
1996
by Rick Smith (March 1996)

I recently attended the Digital Frontier conference at the Kellogg Business School on the Northwestern University campus. It covered the business aspects of the Internet and it was an excellent well- rounded program. The panel discussions were excellent and the facility in Evanston was great. Mark Walsh, Vice President of America On Line, gave the keynote address.

There were many topics presented and since our space is limited, I will concentrate on Intercast, an exciting new technology announced by Intel. This technology had a rapid development cycle as it was prototyped in 1995 and should be a product in late 1996. Like PCI and Indeo, this is another multimedia enabling technology from Intel. Quite simply, Intercast is a new broadcast medium. It combines the interactivity of a PC with the rich content of the Internet and the economics and scalability of broadcast television.

The broadcaster transmits the standard video and audio, along with Web pages, which are inserted into this broadcast signal.. Since the signal is compatible, a standard television would work as it does now and would ignore the additional information. An Intercast enabled PC would receive the signals and the Web pages are then extracted by the receiving computer and cached on the receiving computer's hard disk drive. These signals can be from a broadcast station, cable station and can be recorded on video tape. These Web pages consist of additional content about the program being viewed and appear in the browser Window. Depending on the subject matter of the broadcast, this augmented information can be additional advertising information, more reference material or factual data.

Since this technology requires support from the broadcast media, television content producers, software developers and PC manufacturers, a cross industry group is being formed to address the key issues and formulate a strategy to create a unified presence in the marketplace. Some of the participants in this group are NBC, Viacom, Turner, CNN, QVC, WGBH, America On Line, Asymetrix and Netscape. In the marketing tests, that have been run, the respondents liked the fast, immediate access and the ease of use.

Although this technology is very cool, there are some daunting challenges confronting the Intercast group. They are launching a brand new medium to the world, but this medium should gain greater acceptance as it is compatible with current television and will not force broadcasters to replace their equipment. It will give broadcasters an intermediate step towards a purely digital television system. The group will also have to keep pace with other improvements rapidly being made to the Internet. The best and the brightest people in the world are continuously pushing the "envelope" of Internet technology and applications in many new and exciting directions. Since Intercast was designed as an interactive medium and watching television is generally a passive medium, will consumers want to participate?. Although this technology adds only $100 to the cost of a new computer, a PC is required to use Intercast and unlike TVs or VCRs, most homes in the US do not have a PC.

Intercast is an exciting new technology that gives consumers a fun way to get more from television, can educate and inform them and will help the Internet make even greater inroads into the American home. It will allow more of the interactive power of the PC to be exploited in compelling ways and simply stated, Intercast = Web + TV.

Copyright 1996 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

   
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