Interactivity in Television: Use and Impact of an Interactive Program Guide

Article excerpt

The era of interactive television began in the late 1990s. Interactive television technologies now available include personal video recorders (PVRs), which allow users to record and watch at their convenience as many as 30 hours of programming, Video-On-Demand (VOD), WebTV, and so on (Kerchbaumer, 2000). Media analysts predict that interactive television services will generate annual revenues of more than $25 billion by 2005. In addition, the analysts predict that by 2005, 750,000 people will have PVRs and 4.9 million households will use interactive television features from WebTV or satellite services like "Ultimate TV" (Dickson, 2000). "Ultimate TV" allows viewers to get more information by clicking items they see advertised on the television screen (Albiniak, 2000).

The trend toward interactive television is no exception in the area of cable service. Some cable companies have been offering several interactive services through digital cable. The most representative interactive service offered by digital cable may be the "interactive program guide" (IPG), which allows users to manage their television viewing schedules more effectively with a variety of interactive functions. For instance, if a viewer uses a "Reminder Function" not to miss a program, the interactive program guide reminds the viewer that the program will begin 1 to 15 minutes before the program starts.

Interactive program guides may be the first widely accepted interactive television format. Forrester Research, a media analysis company, estimated that some 34 million U.S. households would have begun using IPGs by 2002 (15 million from EchoStar and DirecTV, 16.1 million from cable, and 1.6 million from Gemstarequipped televisions) (Dickson, 2000).

Media analysts also predict that interactive television technologies such as IPGs have the potential to dramatically change the way users watch television, especially as it becomes an essential tool for navigating hundreds of television channels in the digital television world (Kerchbaumer, 2000). IPGs may act like an Internet search engine in the new 200-channel era, letting viewers customize, browse, flip, and search hundreds of program choices.

This study explored the current use and impact of an IPG--offered through digital cable--on its users' television viewing behaviors. Specifically, the study explored what factors are related to greater use of the IPG, and it: examined how the use of the IPG affects viewing behaviors such as viewing time or channel repertoire.

IPG as an Interactive Television Technology

Some scholars have regarded interactivity as one of the defining qualities of newer media (Heeter, 1989). Rogers (1995) defined interactivity as "the degree to which participants in a communication process can exchange roles and have control over their mutual discourse" (p. 314). He also considered interactivity as a desired quality of communication systems under the assumption that increased interactivity leads to more effective outcomes. More studies on interactivity, nevertheless, have been conducted in the area of computer-mediated communication (CMC) than in the television medium because interactivity has been the most salient characteristic of CMC. As a result, interactivity in the television sphere has not received enough scholarly attention. CMC-related studies have focused particularly on the interactive dimensions of CMC (e.g., Rice, 1987), why and how people use CMC (e.g., Rafaeli, 1986), and how interactive use of CMC systems affects users' performance, especially in an organizational setting (e.g., Ku, 1992).

Arguing that interactivity would present a key basis for differentiation with regard to a conventional medium, Heeter (1989) proposed six dimensions of interactivity: (a) responsiveness to the user, (b) amount of effort users must exert, (c) complexity of user choice, (d) facilitation of interpersonal communication, (e) ease of adding information, and (f) degree of monitoring information use. …