E VRT: Interactive television pilot in Flanders
run by Belgacom s Internet service provider Skynet, featuring games, music,
events, and other commercial information. The communication facilities are also
offered by Belgacom, i.e. e mail, SMS including logo s and tunes, chat, e cards, etc.
SMS is free of charge but only possible for clients of Proximus, Belgacom s mobile
phone operator. Surfing gives access the Internet.
In addition, new applications are gradually being introduced. In September 2002 for
instance, an interactive quiz was launched based on the quiz programme De
Nationale Test (The National Test). This is a general knowledge quiz broadcast every
Sunday. The DHP users can play the quiz for themselves at the same time as the
candidates on television are doing it.
Last but not least, there is a help function and a demonstration evening was
organised for all households of the test panel in order to explain and demonstrate
the DHP pilot and its applications. Reregular newsletters are also provided, which
give details of new features, FAQs and tips for users. A phone help desk is available
as well and e mails can be sent to E VRT staff involved in the pilot.
Another application of the DHP pilot is time shifting. A special button on the remote
control enables live TV to be paused. Peter Suetens believes this might become one
of the most challenging applications of digital television: Imagine the first time you
interrupt, as a viewer, a live broadcast of a football match or the broadcast of a royal
marriage, this is really quite strange. Viewers can of course watch television as
always, i.e. at the moment it is transmitted, but they can also pause and when they
resume, fast forward. You can watch a complete football match in half an hour and
finish it live .
The live broadcast is not recorded real time on the HD. Rather it is buffered. You
can interrupt, stop the broadcast to answer a phone call for instance, and go back
to it later. You can not replay or go back but you can fast forward until you are
completely live again. Backward viewing is only possible when everything is
downloaded onto the HD. The same goes for recording. If you decide to record, you
can not manipulate the programme until it is completely recorded . The question is
how users will react to this. You can time shift by placing yourself de facto in a one
hour delay, in order to skip the ads or to view only the most interesting things.
Maybe people would rather do this, in stead of recording programmes, we don t
As raised in the introduction, learning about user behavior is one of the objectives
of the test pilot. We are developing a system to measure how our test users
behave , says Frank Neuckens, responsible for this part of the DHP project. The
logfiles of every single set top box are automatically sent during the night to a
central VRT server. Now we are experimenting with analysing the stored data. One
of the issues is that users have to identify themselves correctly when using the desk
top box (logging on and off). Though we do not measure individual behavior, this
information is important for making profiles .
Reliable data on the use of the set top box are not yet available since the pilot was
temporarily put on hold (except for some test users). Also it is not intended to
publish user data, at least not in detail. Very preliminary observations from the panel
however, already show some interesting things, according to Neuckens. We did not
expect Internet surfing to be very popular, given the lack of TV friendly websites,
and we thought time shifting would become really important. To our surprise, it is
the other way around. But actually it is too soon to draw these kinds of conclusions .