A future scenario of Interactive Television - information and technology that belongs to the rich?

Term Paper, 1994

22 Pages, Grade: B+


Table of Contents













New media Systems will govern the world of tomorrow. Future scenarios proposed by Neil Postman are more evident then ever. The world of information is the world of tomorrow. Advertisements and commercials of the industry talk about a revolution that is going to effect daily life strongly. Network Systems enable all people to become a part of such a System. Life will be effected heavily. Everything will be easy. Information will be available at any time for everybody for any subject. It’s fulfilment is the task of service providers, which can deliver exactly the information that is wanted. Time is money and to save time means to save money. Information can be everything that can be transported on the new media Systems.

The principle seems to be simple but the price that is to be paid for this dream of the information age is high.

Participating in future communication means using a service provided by private organisations. The user has to pay for this service. Also the price of the latest technical equipment to participate in communication is high. Therefore the use of the new technologies is expensive. Only a minority is able to pay such a high price. The majority can not afford it and so can not become a part of these communication Systems. This means that there would be a kind of hierarchy existing, that puts people into different classes.

1. The information elite, which provides the users with information.
2. A privileged class, in which people have enough money in order to get quality information.
3. A disadvantaged class, people who do not have enough money to get valuable information

The last group will form the largest class.

However, this does not mean that everybody is a member of a certain class, but it can be claimed, that there are at least three groups existing. In a society where the notions information and communication are valued highly this would mean 'big business'.

In the following l want to discuss the effects the interactive television technology might have on the 'Information society' and which tasks have to be fulfilled to become a member of it.

l want to focus on the question, what are the advantages to be a 'member' of such a society and what advantages these technologies offer? My task is not to find a definite answer to these questions. They must be seen as speculative ones. All the new communication technologies like interactive television, are just at the beginning of its 'booming' development and there is no empirical research done on it yet. However, want to take the interactive television technology as an example to discuss, what opportunities this new technology offers. Therefore, my work is primarily a theoretical approach to an issue that will become even more important if the new System will knock on the door of private households in Europe.

l also want to discuss some ideas of Bertolt Brecht, who already in the 1920's made suggestions for interactive broadcasting, which were primarily concerned about the radio system. But nevertheless his ideas are still applicable on any other communication system. His ideas of interactivity are more relevant than ever.[i] The industry took on this argument for their own purposes. They Claim, that interactive television is absolutely necessary, because the Computer generation is raised with interactivity. Video games are one the best examples for interactivity.

As well as the latest information l collected from newspapers, l will also use magazines and other media.


At the moment there is only one real interactive digital communication System existing[ii]. lt is the internet. 25 years ago, the internet was developed in behalf of the Pentagon. Then it was used as a network System between universities world-wide. These Systems have grown immensely in the last few years.[iii] Access to this network depends on knowledge about it. Knowledge on how to use it is presupposed and is kept in books, or published material existing in other media, or by the people who already use this System.

In the beginning only knowledge was to be exchanged. Therefore the access to the Systems was strictly limited. Only scientists had access to the network. Eventually the network got bigger and all members of the universities could use it. However, only a minority was working with it, because only few knew about the network and kept quiet in order to have a better access to one of the limited 'public' terminals.

Nowadays the Situation changed. A tot of people know about the Internet. The number of terminals grew and even companies become connected. Even private people can connect from home into the Internet, because Computer moderns became low-priced. The elite was broken down. Most of the system users are still part of the university System but also private service providers try to enter the internet in order to commercialise a completely decentralised and therefore non-commercial System. At the moment this internet seems to be the largest digital network System in the whole world. It can be used for the transfer of E-Mail, any kind of data and for on-line communication. It also has the opportunities to transfer music data and video data, that needs a large amount of digital information.

Everybody can connect to it and can become a user, sender or provider in this System. The knowledge on how this System works is kept in magazines like 'wired' or '.net’ and recently a lot of books appeared on the market, which give an insight into how this System works and how it can be used.

The System is highly complicated and presupposes a lot of knowledge in using it. Most of the 'public' terminals in universities use UNIX-spreadsheets which look like DOS spreadsheets. They are as complicated as the DOS ones and the users have to know about the commands, which they have to remember when they use such a System. Only a few terminals have spreadsheets which look like 'Windows' images. There the user just has to dick on icons and a small guide System will offer him or her choices as to what the next step might be. The barrier of knowledge seems to be broken down by these Windows Programme.

Knowledge seems to be one of the key points to become a member of a new communication System. Another key point is of course money. There already exist some pay-tv television stations. Their Programme is only accessible by the use of a key and a decoder that has to be bought. Then a subscription has to bought in order to get a new key every month. The subscription fee and the price for the decoder is in relation to the usual television fee very high. Only a minority agree to pay such a high price to see the latest films on television.[iv]


The model of the internet[v] can be taken as a good example as to how interactive television might develop. Interactive television will also be a part of a digital network System. An apparatus bounded in a digital network System enables everybody to get connected. Private persons or business people, it does not matter, everybody can use the service. Therefore business can be done at any time and everywhere. Big deals can be made on-line and business partners can be communicated at any time. Transfers and transactions can be done at Computer terminals in the Office or at home 24 hours a day. More and more information will enter the domestic sphere.[vi]

Interactive television would be a part of this network, that in order to be 'interactive' should be structured as the internet. A decentralised Server unit will supply Servers with the information that is demanded. This possible development seems to suggest that for such a System a new apparatus is needed, that combines the facilities of the old television set, the telephone and the 'interactive' possibilities of a Computer. Such an apparatus could be a part of a Computer or could be a new independent apparatus, a ‚Teleputer‘.[vii]

For this purpose the broadcasting System has to change. For an interactive television System the one way communication System (television, radio) has to be made interactive. In the 1980's the network Systems turned digital. The majority of these households of Europe have a Computer at home. Together they could form the platform for interactive television. By cheap modification of the existing network it would offer the Option of a response channel. This response channel is absolutely necessary for interactive television. The grade of interactivity depends on the design of the Systems.

All the systems that will use the interactive television System as their backbone can be put in a hierarchy of interactivity. The lowest grade will have the old Systems like distribution Systems of television, pay tv, video text and Channel Videodat. More 'interactive' are the distribution Services which will have a small response channel: Pay per view, Game shows with the participation of viewers at home and Teleshopping via telephone. Then there are 'on demand' Systems with a small response channel: Video, Audio and Software on demand, interactive teleshopping, Edutainment, interactive commercials, data bases and information Services, on-screen newspapers etc. Even more interactive would be all the Systems which have an equivalent two way communication: Multimedia Mail (internet) and asynchrone telecooperations. Right in the end there are the real interactive Services: Video phone and Video Conference, Video communication, Telecooperation (joint viewing and joint editing), news group Conferences, 3D-conferences and VR-communication.

All these Systems would be a part of interactive television but they are different by their grade of interactivity. Some of these technologies exist already, some have to be introduced. But there are certain limitations. First of all the more advanced the service is the more has to be paid for.[viii] Secondly, there is the sociotechnical aspect. Only few households in Germany have cable,[ix] and not every household has a Computer. Also most domestic Computers would not be able to handle the high amount of data that would be provided by the advanced Services provided by interactive television. This would mean that the more advanced interactive Systems would only be open to the groups in society who have the latest technical equipment and the money to pay for the service. The others would only be able to use the Systems they can afford. This would support the establishment of a hierarchy.


The people who want to participate on pay tv Programme have to pay. This seems to be very simple. In a System where private channels, public channels and pay tv Programme are coexisting they are competing with each other.

The private and the public broadcasters offer their programme free. All what the people at home have to do is to buy a television set and get an antenna, a satellite dish or cable. The public broadcasters are financed by taxes, the private channels finance their programme by the commercials they broadcast and the pay tv providers sell subscriptions for their programme.

Video on demand would be a further development of pay tv. lt would mean what you see is what you pay for. The future scenario would be that the perceivers at home have the choice to make up their own arrangement of television programme. They could use a menu were all the programme are listed, then they could make their selection. They would programme which programme, at what time and for how long they want to watch. The price they have to pay for this service depends on the kind of programme and the time they watch it.


[i] Matthias Kuom: Brecht und das neue Fernsehen. In Wechselwirkung december/january 94/95 pp.29-31

[ii] Except the internet there is just the telephone, that could be calied interactive. But the telephone System is analog and is not able to transport huge amounts of data.

[iii] 3Hans J. Kleinsteuber: Die Verheißung der Kabeldemokratie. In Wechselwirkung december/january 94/95 p. 25

[iv] There are also many other reasons why pay tv is hardly accepted by the viewers (socialisation, competition with the cinema etc.). But still the main reason is the high price.

[v] In order to avoid the myth that on the internet everything is possible, l just want to mention here that it is extremely unreliable and does not offer all the possibilities people would like to have. It is just a network System that is now discovered by a mass of people. Therefore it is just at the beginning of its development to a mass medium. Nobody can control it and nobody can say how it will turn out to be. But this System seems to have all the facilities to become the mass medium of the 1990's and the next decades.

[vi] Hans J. Kleinsteuber: Die Verheißung der Kabeldemokratie. In Wechselwirkung december/january 94/95 p.27

[vii] Hans J. Kleinsteuber: Die Verheißung der Kabeldemokratie. In Wechselwirkung december/january 94/95 p.27

[viii] Matthias Kuom: Brecht und das neue Fernsehen. In Wechselwirkung december/january 94/95 p.30

[ix] Europe Germany the highest rate of houses connected to cable networks.

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A future scenario of Interactive Television - information and technology that belongs to the rich?
University of Amsterdam
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Interactive, Television
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International Master of Arts Dirk Schmelz (Author), 1994, A future scenario of Interactive Television - information and technology that belongs to the rich?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/107841


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