A No Fuss Route To Interactive TvAmy Cortese
COMPUTER AND CONSUMER-ELECTRONICS MAKERS, from Microsoft to RCA, are once again pushing interactive TV. The easiest way to get a glimpse of the digital future, though, may come from Wink Communications. This Alameda (Calif.) startup makes software that, when built into a TV or cable set-top box, lets viewers receive enhanced two-way broadcasts. Viewers use the remote control to click on a Wink icon on the TV screen, and a menu pops up offering additional info about the show or ad they're watching. But unlike other interactive-TV offerings, such as Microsoft's WebTV, there's no special hardware to buy and no subscription fee. (Wink makes its money by selling the software to broadcasters and, down the road, by taking a cut of electronic commerce transactions.)
The Wink software is being built into set-top boxes from NextLevel Systems and Scientific-Atlanta. In addition, late next year, Toshiba Corp. will start selling a TV with the Wink software and a modem built in. Wink has also signed up its first major network, NBC, which plans to add interactive features to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and National Football League games so you can get bios of Leno's guests or stats on any football team while watching the program.