Open, the interactive television company owned by BSkyB, BT, Panasonic and the HSBC bank, announced its launch plans and added Dixons, Argos and Somerfield to a list of retailers that will be offering goods through the system.
But analysts predict the main draw will be a system allowing customers to hook a telephone line up to a television set so that messages can be written and received without buying a computer. Up to seven people in each household will be able to have their own e-mail address through the system, which will operate with the use of a pounds 30 keyboard.
Open is making its system as easy to use as possible by teaming up with Philips to manufacture an infra-red keyboard, which merely needs to be pointed at the television like a large remote control. The company's interactive services will be free to subscribers to Sky's digital channels and users will be able to send messages for the price of a phone call.
Interactive television should be a reality by spring, with a full service available in one million households by autumn.
Yesterday BSkyB said it had signed up 350,000 households to its digital service since it launched in October. It is forecasting it will be in a million homes by autumn. On top of the e-mail system, Sky Digital subscribers will be able to play interactive games on screen, access bank accounts, and book theatre and concert tickets.
As well as the three retailers announced yesterday, subscribers will be able to shop at Woolworths and Iceland, and Open is looking to sign up music and video retailers, travel companies and health and beauty stores. The home shopping system just needs a normal remote control and for viewers to connect their telephone line to the back of a Sky Digital set-top box. Food, videos or tickets can be bought by selecting from on-screen menus.
The system will remember what you buy regularly and ask if you want it again. Goods can be paid for by credit card or by setting up a virtual bank account with HSBC. Other charges will include the price of phone calls to order products, but browsing around the home shopping channels will be free. "We envision families being able to sit down and choose presents for this Christmas through their television sets," said a company spokesman. "The economics of the system will make it possible for the entire population to have their own e-mail address."
BSkyB interim results,
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