British Airways, Rover, Standard Life, Sainsbury’s, 3M, Compaq.
What do all these leading companies have in common? The answer is that
all are in the process of, or recently have, set up their own business
television (BTV) network.
BTV has taken a long time to come of age but, despite fears that the
medium would remain a premium item, now there are real signs it could
move from being a niche technique used only by large corporates to a
mainstream business communications tool. That time may still be a few
years off, but the last few months have been the busiest and most
interesting in BTV’s short history and 1997 promises to be a year of
BA’s global network is scheduled for a full-scale launch in April, with
daily programming to 100 countries around the world. Rover’s network,
delivering programmes to 375 dealers via parent company BMW, should be
operational by February, 3M is rolling out a network across five
continents, and Compaq is setting up a 20-site European network. And
following the success of Sainsbury’s network set up last autumn, arch
rival Tesco is rumoured to be following suit.
So why this sudden furious spate of activity? ’The most important
development in the last couple of years is digitisation. The main reason
the eight networks we have won over the last year have chosen BTV is for
interactivity and learning,’ explains Phil Govan, director of business
development at Global Access, one of the main network installers and
operators in the UK.
All new networks being installed are digital, and the advent of digital
technology is making BTV so much more appealing than it used to be. Cost
is one of the most significant factors.
’We can operate a digital service at a lower price because we’re only
using part of the existing satellite transponder,’ explains Harry
Formosa, senior product manager, video, audio and data broadcasting at
BT Global Satellite Services. Digital satellite transmission time is
around 40 per cent cheaper than analogue, with prices quoted at pounds
900 to pounds 1,200 an hour for occasional users down to pounds 600 an
hour for high volume users.
Digital also spells reliability and higher picture quality. ’One of the
most interesting developments in the last 12 months is global
programming and being able to deliver this in a guaranteed way thanks to
digital networks,’ says Stephen Watson, managing director of production
company CTN, which is working with BA on its BTV programming.
Lloyds Bank decided to invest in a digital BTV network last summer to
run alongside the existing analogue network at TSB and carry programming
for the newly merged company. ’Digital pictures are certainly very
clear, and digital transmission is also better if you want to use
enhanced graphics and multimedia,’ reports Brian Carson, communications
manager at IS Communications, a development arm of Lloyds TSB.
Digital technology has already prompted increased interest in BTV, but
it’s still only big companies with large workforces that are buying into
it. However, the time is not far off, says Steve Garvey, manager of
corporate television at Reuters, when BTV will start to appeal to small
’When the unit cost of encoders and decoders falls due to the volume of
people buying them, then BTV will start to make sense to a great many
more people than at present,’ he says.
But it is the increased options for interactivity that digitisation
makes possible that is really driving BTV forward. ’Companies like 3M,
Compaq and Microsoft would not have considered BTV if it was just a
one-way, passive delivery system,’ says Govan.
BTV has always been primarily an internal communications tool, with
training one of the most important uses, but it is interactive distance
learning (IDL) that is now flavour of the season with BTV users.
IDL is already well-established in the US, with users including Ford,
Xerox and the Federal Aviation Administration. The technique allows
companies to deliver cost-effective training to employees and even
external audiences, with significant savings on the trainer’s time (the
lesson only needs to be given once) and travel and subsistance expenses
So far the only UK user is Oracle, but most companies with new digital
networks are thought to be giving IDL serious thought, without making
any firm commitment.
Bob Clarke, chairman of production company Visage, reports: ’We’re
getting a lot of interest from existing and potential clients, and at
least one of our clients will be doing IDL this year’.
Ford has confirmed it will probably trial IDL with a couple of dealers
in its existing BTV network to monitor its potential benefits.
Digitisation is also making BTV easier to cost-justify because it also
allows BTV networks to be used for data transmission. ’Data is now
becoming much more of an issue. People we’re talking to are getting more
excited about data delivery than traditional BTV. Rover, for example, is
talking about data applications for its dealer network,’ says Geoffrey
Davies, manager of business television at satellite services company
’Rover’s network will incorporate data from dealers’ electronic POS
systems, and there will be data on cars available so these can be
ordered from the factory. Rover is looking at getting full value from
its investment,’ adds Govan of Global Access, which is installing the
As well as a growth in dedicated company networks, digitisation could
also see a growth in specialist networks and ad hoc use of BTV. There
are currently two hotel-based networks in the UK, Beacon and Mosaic,
while the specialist Medical Television Network is used mainly by
pharmaceutical companies to distribute product information to doctors in
hospitals around Europe. PR agency Burson-Marsteller also has its own 15
site BTV network in offices around Europe which it uses for staff
communication and is also used by clients for press and analyst
Garvey admits that Reuters has done relatively few one-off BTV
transmissions, but feels this could change. ’Digitisation will mean
immediate cost savings, and then I think we’ll get a much bigger take
up,’ he says.
New uses for BTV will no doubt continue to be found, and the future of
the new medium looks secure. The only thing that is in doubt is how BTV
will be delivered. At present satellite delivery is most cost-effective
for most organisations, but in the future Intranets and fibre cable
could be the solution.
’We can’t see people being able to transmit anything like broadcast
quality televison even down ISDN lines for quite a while,’ says Govan.
’For learning and longer programming it’s not possible to watch lower
quality images, it detracts from the message. For international players
the cost of cabling up on high-end ISDN circuits is also
Stephen Watson of CTN says: ’I’ve never viewed the Intranet as
We were the first to develop an on-demand desktop video service with
ITN, but the hardware requirement is so considerable it would not be
viable for retailers to put it in. In two years’ time I’m sure we’ll be
producing BTV through PCs, but it’s not the delivery system that’s
important, it’s the use of live and interactive visual
Reuters currently delivers a daily 15-minute television programme called
Reuters Financial Television to the desktops of City dealers updating
them on overnight news and giving expert views on market
Live news is also covered as it breaks.
So could the same technology be used for corporate business television?’
The answer seems to be only by certain types of organisation. ’Reuters
Financial Television needs very fast PCs with a huge capacity,’ says
’Big banks have the type of IT networks which can handle television
applications,’ he adds.
Jeremy Kent, divisional director of Key 3D, the specialist division of
Key Communications which advises on new technology says: ’Watching TV on
a personal computer is still quite expensive, even in comparison to a
BTV network because you need a special card in every PC. The Intranet is
also a lot less user-friendly than using television.’
Kent also points out that in many businesses employees simply don’t have
access to PCs and are not used to using them. This is true in retail
environments, like Sainsbury’s, where shop floor staff don’t generally
So it seems that BTV is set to be around for a long time, even if not
perhaps in the form that we currently know it.
’My definition of BTV doesn’t depend on satellite technology - I don’t
care whether the medium is delivered through fibre cables or over
satellite,’ says Imagination head of BTV Shaun Varga.
’There are lots of developments which will make business television more
attractive and successful in the future. It won’t just be television
under the traditional definition, but business multimedia
CASE STUDY: INTERACTIVE TV TRAINING IS A SUCCESS FOR ORACLE
Since last April IT company Oracle has broadcast around 400 hours of
distance learning to 40 sites all over Europe, and this year plans to
broadcast at least 500 hours.
’In the IT market if you don’t move quickly you’re dead. IDL enables us
to train staff more quickly and to get complex messages across to a lot
more people at the same time with no dilution,’ explains Mike Davies,
director of the Oracle Channel.
Davies presented a simple cost justification for the network based on
500 hours use a year which required a saving of two per cent per year on
the travel and entertainment budget of employees.
Davies aims to provide those 500 hours at about the same price as most
BTV networks would spend on 100 hours. ’We’ve focused in on what people
want, which is information and content, not high-feature, high
production cost TV. This is not to say we don’t give quality. We give
what the audience wants in a very cost-effective, timely manner.’
Programmes are delivered from a four camera studio in Bracknell, and
company personnel are taught how to present their own programmes. Most
IDL sessions look at Oracle software and are aimed at people such as
product managers who don’t need a great deal of technical detail, but do
need to know what a product can do.
Training sessions can be as short as one hour, but more often are two
hours, while some last as long as four. ’We’re asking people to change
the way they view TV. Rather than being in a room with someone talking
to them they’re remote. But we want them to be active in the broadcast,
and we make sure they have to do something every 8-10 minutes,’ says
Davies has no doubt that the most important part of the network is the
One Touch system. ’It’s an amazing tool that can give instant feedback
and gives the ability to communicate directly with the audience and
really enhance learning. Without One Touch you just have TV, with it you
have an education and information environment.’
Oracle is clearly delighted with the impact of IDL. ’We’ve surprised
people with how much information we can get across. People come away
saying they’ve actually learnt something, which is partly due to One
Touch and the reinforcement and assessment testing it allows,’ says
Polling at the end of programmes - another application of One Touch -
reveals that 95 per cent of the audience enjoy Oracle Channel
programmes, 92 per cent believe that it is an effective delivery method,
and 97 per cent want to attend further training sessions.
Now the plan is to expand the network to encompass business partners and
customers. Simultaneous translation of programmes (currently only
broadcast in English) is also being tested to encourage greater
interaction from European audiences.
INTERACTIVE TELEVISION: LET YOUR FINGERS DO THE TALKING
The live and interactive nature of BTV has been used to sell the medium
from its earliest days, but until recently interactivity has been
limited to phone calls between remote sites and the host centre or even
just e-mail, letter or fax feedback from the audience.
Technological developments now promise to make BTV more truly
interactive, and in particular make interactive distance learning (IDL)
Two companies are offering packages which enable students at remote
sites to participate in interactive learning sessions run by one or more
trainers at a host studio.
One Touch Systems is an US company whose eponymous product has been used
in the US by companies like Ford for a number of years, and is
distributed in the UK by Global Access. Now One Touch has a rival in the
form of UK company IML which has experience of voting response systems
in the meeting and conference business.
The two companies’ systems are similar, based on interactive keypads
which enable users to respond to questions and to communicate direct to
the host through a built-in microphone. At remote sites keypads are
routed through a site controller, a multimedia computer, which collects
responses and sends them to the host site. Here the host computer
records them and can produce graphs or other visuals, which can be used
to illustrate how the audience feels about important issues and to guide
the presenter about his audience’s understanding of what he has
Touchscreen control enables the presenter to run his own presentation,
using electronic cue cards and interactive questions and quizzes.
Student responses are displayed in real-time, and the names of students
who wish to interact appear on the screen. The presenter activates their
microphone simply by touching their name icon on the screen.
The cost of such interaction is not prohibitive. A five handset remote
system and site controller from IML costs around pounds 2,500, while the
cost at the host centre is the price of two multimedia PCs. A software
licence for a network of up to 2,000 sites costs up to pounds 20,000.
’The real advantage is not having to drag staff away from the
workplace,’ says Peter Knowles, sales director of IML.
IDL is in its infancy in the UK, with Oracle the only current user, but
an explosion of interest can be expected in the next couple of
Unipart trialed IML’s multi-site system last year, asking an audience of
7,500 resellers at 35 locations in the UK what they thought about
various issues and comparing this with what customers wanted. Multisite
was also used in a live draw for a car, with the winner identified by
his keypad number.
Distance learning seems likely to be the main use for interactive
systems, but the ability of the technology to engage audiences at remote
sites in a debate and get valuable feedback on their views makes it even
CASE STUDY: MAKING THE MOST OF BTV’S NOVELTY FACTOR
While most BTV networks are used primarily for internal communications,
Norwich Union is using its 34 site network, set up in 1990, mainly for
communication to an external audience of independent financial advisers
The insurance company expects to broadcast seven hour long programmes to
IFAs this year and has signed up industry experts to present new sales
ideas and angles. ’The programmes are about business development and
enable IFAs to pick up ideas for new and existing clients,’ explains
sales support manager at Norwich Union, Mark Harvey.
In the financial services market, where the top 10 players all have good
products and services, Harvey believes that success is all about giving
added value. ’No one else is doing this in our market place. Hopefully
the BTV programmes make the IFAs feel benevolent towards us and we can
develop business on the back of it.’
Harvey says that it is difficult to quantify the specific impact of BTV
on the company’s business because it is part of an integrated marketing
mix, but in the 18 months he has been involved with the programmes the
audience has risen from 500 to 1,000.
The programme has tried interactivity in the form of telephones and
faxes, but feedback from IFAs has shown they prefer to be given
information and then to go away and think about this in their own
BTV is also used by Norwich Union on an ad hoc basis for training, for
example, instructing the sales force how to talk to IFAs, but there are
no plans at present to significantly increase this activity or to
introduce interactivity in the form of IDL systems.
As for internal communications, head of brand and internal
communications, Thomas Cowper-Johnson, says: ’We use BTV much less for
this than we used to, perhaps only once or twice a year. One of the
lessons we have learnt is that it’s dangerous to have a regular magazine
programme because you end up scheduling a programme for a particular
date and you don’t have news and information that is up to date enough
to make it worthwhile.
’We use BTV as a special occasion medium, for events such as our bonus
For more day-to-day communications video is used. ’Staff prefer to take
information from their team leader rather than being briefed from top
and we use video a great deal in that process,’ says Cowper-Johnson.
’BTV doesn’t work quite so well when you don’t have something
sufficiently momentous to talk about. A live event creates the
expectation of significant information. If you use BTV ad nauseam then
people will get fed up with it,’ he concludes.