April 21, 2004, 12:00 AM

Move over PCs: Internet retailing via TV may be on the way

Media companies already allow subscribers to interact with the TV screen on programming choices. Web-enabling TVs for commerce isn’t too far of a leap from that, says one tech consulting firm, as consumers learn to use their TV screen like a PC screen.

Web-enabled TV, in which the TV actually takes the order via a remote rather than simply driving shoppers to their PC to purchase what’s presented on the screen, is one vision of the future from technology consulting firm Molecular Inc., and the Watertown, MA-based company points out that the technology to make it happen is already basically in place.

"We see this as truly the convergence of television with the Internet. Your TV screen becomes a computer that you can hot link to different things," says Darryl Gehly, vice president at Molecular. "It’s already here in some aspects but we think it is going to go further."

Gehly offers the example of TiVo service and satellite TV, pointing out that TiVo is actually a hard drive in a processor that is hooked up to a subscriber’s TV. "It now becomes a computer you can interact with," he says. "Let’s say that TiVo is previewing a Madonna concert that will be on Showtime sometime next month. I can get my remote, hit ‘enter,’ and it automatically schedules itself to record that concert."

It’s not too far a leap from that capacity to imagine hot-linked, click-to-buy products on cable or satellite-delivered TV programming, Gehly adds, especially as the satellite or cable provider already has the credit card information of subscribers who use the cards to pay bills every month. "You could have hot-linkable products on TV that are either in some kind of self-contained infomercial aspect, or integrated into the program itself, that you could click and purchase," Gehly says.

One Molecular client, Showtime Network, already offers a service called Showtime Interactive that lets subscribers use a handheld device to drill down on their TV screen through menus of programming to review content such as biographies of actors in the films and shows being presented. It’s a media-focused offering, but Gehly points to its potential future effect on Internet retailing – via web-enabled TV. "It’s getting users in the habit of interacting with their television screen in much the same way they interact with their PC screen today," he says.


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