Telly, but not as we know it

Net TV seems like a throwback - no sound and only still images. But, reports Sophia Chauchard-Stuart, it's good
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Just when you thought you were getting to grips with the World Wide Web, Channel Cyberia comes along to upset your notions. It was launched last Wednesday, and it is television on the Net - sort of. It has programmes, like television, and they run at scheduled times. But (and it is a big but), it does not yet have moving pictures or even sound. Tune into the channel and you watch still pictures accompanied by text.

If this seems like a giant step backwards from TV, it has to be seen as the embryo of something bigger. When video and sound can flood down the broadband lines into our homes, Channel Cyberia should be something remarkably like interactive TV.

It is backed by the people at Cyberia/Easynet, who successfully identified the Internet cafe as an area of explosive potential. Keith Teare, Channel controller, explains why Cyberia has launched the new service. "The idea is to build a new creative medium and online environment and take Cyberia from being seen as a chain of cybercafes into a whole media development company. The other aim is to get creative people to use the Net as a creative vehicle. To get the content to catch up with the available technology."

So what's on Channel Cyberia? As well as ITN news on the hour, it will run sports items, financial bulletins, and science programmes. Entertainment is in the form of Paul Gambaccini on Cyber Cinema, glamorous fashion slots, arts programmes, music round-ups and, in the best possible taste, tabloid- style "true story" hours called "It happened to me ...".

Teare hopes real audio and passable video will be available by the end of the year.

What does Channel Cyberia offer that television does not? For a start, it has 20 minutes of programming that you can pick up in any hour, so you are less likely to miss that vital interview. Second, it is much more interactive. After each programme, viewers are encouraged to log on to the relevant bulletin board, post messages around the subject, e-mail the programme-maker direct or talk to other view- ers in real-time chat rooms.

The real driver behind the channel is, of course, money: Cyberia hopes advertisers will leap at the chance of targeting young Internet users. Early signs are encouraging. Companies signed up include Nike, Saab, Carrera and Coca-Cola. In return for their cash, advertisers get a professional service - not often associated with the Web - as well as the new In-Site advertising style. In-Site uses a sidebar that flashes during the programme: click on it and the advert fills the whole screen, and further clicks take you to other pages in the ad.

The channel looks good, with a professional layout and not too many clever- clever tricks. A navigation bar at the bottom of the screen makes negotiating the site easier. There is no overall house-style, because Channel Cyberia does not produce its own programming. It contracts out programme-making to independent producers, who get 30 per cent of the revenue from advertising during their programmes.

Some programmes work better than others. For example, the interactive drama serial that can be played from the point of view of three different characters is a bit dull. But overall, the channel is an interesting idea: whether it will be as lucrative a seam as the Internet cafes have been, only time and the advertisers will tell.

Channel Cyberia is at http://channel.cyberiacafe.net/. You will need either Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 preview, Netscape 3.0 preview or Netscape 3.0 for Apple Macs and Global Chat (windows/ Mac) to use the Channel Cyberia site.

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