LIN, Backchannelmedia to Launch ITV Pilot

LIN TV duopoly WTNH/WCTX to offer interactive "portal" in November as pilot for 29-station group

LIN TV is about to launch an interactive TV test with Backchannelmedia that it hopes will change the way people watch television—and surf the Web.

LIN will begin the test on its WTNH/WCTX Hartford-New Haven duopoly in the coming weeks, and seeks to roll it out across its 29-station group if the trial flies.

Backchannel's technology generates a small icon that appears on the bottom-right corner of televisions hooked up to a special set-top box. Viewers can click their remotes to have more information on content they're viewing sent to a personalized Website (which Backchannel calls a “consumer portal”) to be viewed at the consumer's convenience. By working it that way, viewers aren't transported away from the TV until they want to be.

Hearst-Argyle's WCVB Boston and WMUR Manchester, and Media General's WJAR Providence, are currently testing the product with a small sample of viewers and station employees. WCVB President/General Manager Bill Fine says it's been a positive experience thus far. “It's not just a vision in somebody's head,” he says. “The test is working. Operationally, we can do it.”

Robb Richter, LIN senior VP of new media, sees the Backchannel program as both a content play that enhances the viewer experience with additional information and color, and a revenue play, such as when a click on a product directs the viewer to a vendor like iTunes or a neighborhood florist. He also sees it as the elusive bridge between TV and the Web.

Interactive television, involving viewers clicking on items of interest, has long been seen as the Holy Grail in the television business. Richter is hopeful Backchannel, which formed in 2000, has the stuff to separate itself from the long list of those that have come up short.

“These guys have been working at perfecting it for years,” he says. “It doesn't obstruct the user experience, which is what caused the others to fail. It's different from other products in that it doesn't interrupt the viewing pattern.”

LIN and Backchannel are shooting for a November launch at the Connecticut duopoly, with a few hundred homes involved. Richter aims to include local advertisers among the viewers in the test group, so they can see firsthand how it affects the viewer-marketer interaction and also receive data on engagement. Backchannel co-CEO Michael Kokernak says spots could serve double duty with the interactive program—a national auto ad could not only establish the brand, as the image spots are supposed to, but also lead viewers to local dealers if they click.

Boston-based Backchannel, which is also in talks with cable, satellite and telco companies about adopting its service, said LIN's progressive digital strategy makes the broadcaster a logical partner. Co-CEO Dan Hassan calls LIN “a proven innovator and entrepreneur.”