Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Information Highway in Quebec

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Information Highway in Quebec

Article excerpt

HEARST CORP. IS joining six Canadian companies in a consortium that plans to invest $570 million to provide 1.5 million Canadian homes with free access to one of the broadest arrays yet of in-home commercial services, delivered by cable to computerized television sets operated by remote control.

The consortium envisions the following:

Without leaving the glow of their TV sets, cable subscribers browse through advertising, order anything from food to a refrigerator, and pay almost any way they want. They watch pay-per-view movies, order a chicken dinner to be delivered, attend class, balance bank accounts, transfer funds to debit cards, play video games, pay electric bills, adjust their home-heating system, buy lottery tickets and chat with neighbors on electronic bulletin boards.

The system adds some new twists to interactive TV tests. Hardware is provided free to cable subscribers, who pay nothing extra for a broad array of services. Service providers foot most of the bill using revenues collected from advertisers and marketers. Hearst's electronic ads, for instance, will be free. It plans no news services.

Subscribers will have to pay for services they order, such as video games and pay-per-view movies, and "transaction fees," such as bank charges for electronic bill-paying.

The consortium's strategy is to make the services available at no extra charge and reach up to 80% of homes in its targeted areas. In addition, using the familiar remote control-operated TV set as the communication instrument vastly expands the universe of potential customers, compared with services available on personal computers.

The system is called Universality, Bidirectionality and Interactivity, or UBI. Le Groupe Videotron, the cable operator and spiritual leader of the project, is rolling out the services starting in 1995 to 34,000 homes in the Saguenay region of Quebec. They will be expanded to 1.4 million more homes in Quebec City and Montreal by 2002.

Videotron already has 26% of its 1.2 million subscribers using a basic interactive service for which they pay a premium of about $6.

The six partners are investing $134 million to install equipment into people's homes: the set-top computer terminal in a box that is the heart of the system plus such peripherals as printers, for coupons and receipts, and credit and debit card machines. …

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