The annual Enhanced Television Workshop organised by the American Film Institute provides the premier practical showcase for interactive television projects in the United States, as informitv reports.

Among those present at the presentation of the prototype projects at the AFI campus in Hollywood was interactive producer and informitv consultant Gary Hayes, who acted as a mentor and line producer on one of the prototypes.

Nick DeMartino of the AFI opened the event by saying the Enhanced Television Workshop had outgrown its name. From 2005, a new Digital Content Lab will take into account all emerging media forms and foster new hybrid collaborations. “The time is right,” he said “to take this work to a new level”.

Jean Picker Firstenberg, the AFI chief executive said that their intention was “to set the standard” for such work, and she announced a change to their mission statement to include digital content together with film and television.

Introducing the individual projects, Marcia Zellers said that each offered something different. Indeed, many of the projects extended beyond enhanced television to include broadband, games consoles and mobile applications. This may indicate the change in emphasis to ‘digital content’, but such a definition may be difficult to contain.

In practice, it is currently difficult to deliver a single screen experience in the US market, and until coherent platforms emerge, enhanced television is unlikely to become a distinct category as it is in Europe.

Even after seven years of AFI workshops, although more focussed on deliverable propositions, the projects presented appeared to be very much first generation models, but together indicated a dormant creativity that suggests that given time the United States could be leading the world in this field.

Dinosaur Highway, The Science Channel
Microsoft Windows XP Media Center
With the perennially popular subject of dinosaurs, this project combined television with a multiplayer role-playing game based in an interactive prehistoric setting including video vignettes from the programme, with the weekly show providing information that helps users play the game. Players can modify the characteristics of their dinosaurs and are ranked according to their lifespan.

Dora the Explorer, Nickelodeon
This project was built using Ensequence tools and targeted at an OpenTV box on the Echostar satellite platform, intended to be actually deployable in the current market. Aimed at 2-6 year olds, the emphasis was on keeping things very simple. A matching game involved selecting objects on screen that are the same as those chosen by Dora. At the end of the show there is a karaoke-style sing-along.

American Experience, WGBH/PBS
Created using the emuse ModelStream authoring tool, the object of this project was to involve viewers in the history of the American Experience, featuring Castro’s Cuba in this example. A simple menu and bookmark scheme, combined with SMS messaging of codes via mobile phone offers access to more content on the web or via an interactive voice menu system.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Bravo
Microsoft XP Windows Media Center
A busy but elegant interface designed in Flash by Schematic provided a vehicle to drive viewers from products placed in the programme to further information and ultimately commercial sites, although home improvement techniques rounded off the proposition. Microsoft was heavily involved in the development, which also included integration with Java enabled mobile phones to remotely record the show or register items of interest during the programme.

TV411, Adult Literacy Alliance/PBS
The simple proposition of this project was a reading and maths educational programme for adults, featuring a five section menu system that allows viewers to explore items in more depth. An example from the prototype showed how to measure the perimeter of baseball diamond and then allowed the viewer to see this presented in a different way, engage in quizzes, games and related math lessons. A collaboration between NDS, Sun, and NPTV from Paris using their iTV Factory authoring suite, this project involved tweaking a French Thomson satellite set-top box to run NTSC.

The L Word, Showtime
This project aimed to enhance the drama series, get viewers more involved with the characters and find out a little about themselves. Viewers were able to answer personal questions related to the dramatic points in the show, in some cases with extra video of the characters playing off the local storage. The pay-off involved being matched to one of the main characters in the show to receive a personally delivered message. Vidiom Systems provided technical support for the project which ran on their VISION Workbench OCAP simulator, in this case addressing a Scientific Atlanta 8300HD digital video recorder.

Living for the Weekend, Scripps Networks
MSN Video Service for broadband
In essence this project provided a broadband console comprising short-form presenter-led video clips from the lifestyle show, with a second window and various other panes highlighting featured products, synchronised to the main programme. The project uses Microsoft Windows Media on a broadband internet protocol network and used the Zetools content creation interface, with the underlying XML schemas allowing it to be rapidly re-purposed for similar platforms.

HiJack, MTV Networks
NDS MediaHighway/PowerTV
The concept of this project was predicated on ‘hi-jacking’ the channel with a suite of innovative retro-style games overlayed over back to back music videos. It combined a refreshing irreverence and an anarchic approach that complements the MTV brand. Produced for two technical platforms, the NDS technical team created deliberately crude interstitial graphics to link the games to build a compelling experience with obvious attraction to the target market.