NTi walks the interactive walk

Digital Convergence technology makes it easier for the program's viewers to surf the Web
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NTi has built up an audience via a program broadcast on television, radio and the Internet, and this year it will appear at NATPE, looking to broaden that audience even further with the help of Digital Convergence and its CueCat and CRQ technology.

With the help of Digital Convergence, which is also a sponsor of the program, NTi viewers, listeners and surfers are now able to kick back and surf the Web without having to touch a keyboard. The CueCat device, a pen-size handheld bar-code scanner connected to a computer that allows users to scan bar codes and access Web sites, has taken its share of criticism as gadget gurus consider its usefulness.

But the CRQ connection could be more attractive. Connecting the TV to the computer via a "convergence cable" enables Web-site information to be sent via audio signals (or cues) from the TV set to the computer. The computer then takes the viewer directly to related Web sites and Internet content. As related Web content is referred to in the broadcast, the computer can immediately respond and take the viewer to the content.

"The hook is the automation that the technology offers, and it's a fantastic answer to the complexity of having to look up URLs and type them in," says Laura Lewis, NTi executive producer and host. "We can also hit a broader demographic with pages designed for children or senior citizens, and that is what's fun about this."

NTi began as a radio talk show in Dallas five years ago, broadcasting from the same studio in which Audionet was founded (Audionet later became Broadcast.com, which today is part of Yahoo). Lewis notes that it was one of the first programs to be "triplecast" over television, radio and the Internet.

"We already have a lot of interactivity with surveys and online questionnaires, and we really just gave people what they wanted and tried to stay on the cutting edge of what technology was coming out," she says. "We really had our ear to the ground."

Brad Smith, Net Talk Interactive managing director, says the television version of the program can be seen on 18 Belo stations as well as The WB affiliates. "The show has been totally reformatted since its early-late-night talk format," he adds. "It's now more like Entertainment Tonight
's format."

Smith believes that the CRQ technology will make it much easier for viewers to surf along at home. "When people first started watching the show, they were surfing along with the computer and had to go log on to what the talent was talking about," he says. "But, with the CRQ technology, we can do the surfing for them."

Not only the over-the-air broadcasts but also the content streamed through the NTi Web site can be CRQ-enabled. "If you're watching the show on your computer," Smith explains, "the video stream will bring up the Web sites mentioned in the program."

He also says the CueCat could fit into the plans as well. "I think everyone will find a different use for the devices. For a TV show, the Cat would be more of a contest device, with swipe-and-win game pieces. Everyone on the Cat side is going to find different purposes for it."

For Lewis, implementation of the Digital Convergence products is a continuation of the show's mission to educate viewers and listeners about the latest in computer-related technology. "When we first started out, people didn't even know what 'www' was. We still play the role of educator and entertainer, dishing out the info so it can be easily disseminated and not intimidating."

And the real killer app? In the next few months, Digital Convergence will introduce a wireless version of its system, something that will make it that much easier for viewers to get interactive without being intimidated.

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