Thursday, July 20, 2006

Interact Is Stranger than Fiction

Charter Communications is running ads telling us how great digital cable will be since we'll be able to use our remotes to participate, vote and provide feedback. I'm still waiting...

All this talk about interactive TV (iTV) got me thinking. When did iTV begin?

Some would argue that iTV started on December 12, 1977 when the Qube network first aired in Columbus, OH. Qube was billed as "the world's first interactive TV service," offering multiple channels. What were a few of Qube's milestones?
  • 1980 Jun 20: Nearly 7,0000 QUBE households in Columbus, OH paid $10 each to watch Sugar Ray Leonard battle Roberto Duran for the WBC welterweight title. What? That's not historical enough for you? OK. What if I tell you that viewers acted as home judges? The QUBE system allowed every PPV subscriber to vote for each round of the match. I would love to see the scorecards for the home judges for Duran's unanimous, but narrow, win.
  • 1980 Jul 12: The semi-pro football game between the Racine Gladiators and the Columbus Metros used the collective 'expertise' of approximately 5,000 armchair quarterbacks. Before every snap the QUBE system presented five plays on screen, each household selected a play, the central computer tallied the results and conveyed the plurality's choice to the Columbus coach. I don't know how well the Metros would've normally played against the Gladiators, but "Your Call Football" viewers led the Gladiators to a 10-7 defeat.
But I think iTV started much earlier when ''Winky Dinky and You'' preemed on CBS on October 10, 1953. I never saw the show, but I think Dave Barry says it best in his March 13, 1994 article:
This was the first ''interactive'' TV show. You, the viewer, sent 50 cents to Box 5, New York 19, New York, and you got back a Magic Window, which was a piece of transparent plastic that you put on your TV screen. Then, under the direction of your host, Jack Barry, you used special crayons to draw lines on the plastic. (Or, if you were my sister and I, and you didn't have a Magic Window, you drew right on the TV screen and interacted with your parents later.)

After the lines were drawn, you and Jack Barry said the Magic Word — "WINKO!" — and the lines became part of, say, a bridge, which Winky Dink would use to get across a river.
Definitely low-tech iTV.

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