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Tech Industry

Net TVs not yet must-see

A new survey has discouraging news for those hoping for an instant boom in the nascent Internet television market.

A new survey released today from research firm Dataquest has discouraging news for those hoping for an instant boom in the nascent Internet television market.

A relatively small number of U.S. households indicated that they would consider using their TV sets to get on the Internet, according to the company's latest report. Of 7,000 households surveyed, four percent said they would consider buying Internet television systems such as the heavily advertised WebTV.

Still, extrapolated to cover the approximately 98 million U.S. households, that number means that 3.9 million households see WebTV and its ilk as an attractive buy.

Those in the computer and home entertainment industries have looked upon the convergence of PCs and television as the megadollar industry of the future, carrying profound business and lifestyle changes. Yet there is no certainty about this direction, let alone which companies will ultimately lead whatever new industry emerges.

The survey showed that the interest in using the Internet through the TV set was higher among PC users than non-PC users. That might seem obvious--people familiar with computers are more likely to recognize and appreciate potential benefits--but the new industry's market strategy has so far been aimed at grabbing the attention of noncomputer users, mostly with expensive television ad campaigns.

But Dataquest's report indicated that only 3.2 percent of computerless households were interested in WebTV-like services, while 5.5 percent of PC households expressed interest.

A WebTV spokesman acknowledged concerns about the marketplace but said the Internet's high profile in general advertising would raise customer consumer awareness. "As more people see Web site addresses added to commercials, more people will want Internet access," he said.

Further emphasis on "push" technology, which sends information directly to a user's screen and cuts down on browsing time, as well as increased regional and local Web-based content could increase demand among noncomputer users for Internet television, according to Van Baker, director of Dataquest's Digital Consumer program.

At least one analyst was more pessimistic, saying that the television as we know it is not a good medium for the Internet, both technologically and socially.

"A TV is not a good video device," said Clay Ryder, director of Zona Research. "Except for color, it still uses 1939 technology, and computer screens have at least eight times the resolution. I don't give it a big chance in the home market."

Digital television sets could solve the resolution problems but not for at least another two years. In the meantime, Internet on the tube might have an application in other places.

"In the business space--like in hotels that cater to businesspeople traveling a lot--if you have a unit where you can check email or plug in your laptop, then you have an interesting proposition," Ryder said.