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WebTV gets Sesame Street deal

Microsoft's WebTV and the show's creators are developing interactive features--such as a printable coloring book--for the kids' show.

Big Bird, meet Bill Gates.

Microsoft, which has long targeted college students, now has found a way to further broaden its market with a direct link to preschoolers who watch the popular television show Sesame Street.

In another step toward the convergence of television and computers, Microsoft and the Children's Television Workshop announced today that they are creating interactive programming that marries the software giant's WebTV with Sesame Street.

The companies demonstrated a sample interactive show at Internet World in New York today, but the actual interactive show is not yet ready for prime time.

Rather, "the two companies are considering collaborating on upcoming episodes of Sesam Street that would be televised," according to a statement issued by the companies.

The idea would be that viewers watching from a WebTV Plus or WebTV for Windows would be able to click on an interactive button that would then allow them to access "interactive educational features" directly related to the show, such as printable coloring-book pages, activity guides, and interactive games.

This is not the first time WebTV has introduced interactive programming. In an effort to maximize the interactive potential of a Net-connected television set-top box, WebTV has started adding interactive features. For instance, in March WebTV introduced an ad campaign that included an interactive programming link.

But while the popularity of the Web is constantly on the rise and some studies suggest that people are spending more time Web surfing on their computers than watching television, it is not at all clear that people want to interact with their programming.

In fact, entertainment-based Web programming, with the notable exception of games, has largely failed on the Net. And so has interactive television.

Some industry watchers have said, however, that entertainment will take off when broadband access--through cable access or digital subscriber lines--becomes ubiquitous.