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TiVo + Amazon = golden age of television?

July 22, 2008 |  3:35 pm

Tivo As if there already weren't enough places to go shopping, TiVo announced today that it will offer a service that allows people to buy things from with their TiVo remotes (the New York Times got the scoop on the Amazon-TiVo deal this morning). Watch Jon Stewart excoriate a guest author on "The Daily Show," then buy the book anyway with a click of your remote. Watch an artist jump on Oprah's couch, then buy his newest movie on DVD before he's even finished jumping. It's so easy even your cat could do it (and might, too, if he likes to dance on your remote).

TiVo isn't the first company to think of this. E-commerce on the TV has been kind of a holy grail for the tech industry for years. In one recent example, a Boston company called Backchannel Media in March started rolling out devices that allow TV viewers to send things to their computers from their TVs. That means if you're watching a Travel Channel special on Rome, for instance, you could click on your remote and send yourself an e-mail detailing Orbitz specials on Rome hotels. Or if you're weeping while listening to a sad song on "Gossip Girl," you could click to buy the song from iTunes.

Backchannel's service goes beyond shopping. It offers to send content and news stories to your computer too, creating what co-CEO Michael Kokernak calls a "positive impact on the print industry." Viewers watching a segment on CNBC could click to find out more information about the subject and receive an article from the Wall Street Journal, for instance. Those watching a biography of Attila the Hun can get Wikipedia definitions of terms they might not be familiar with it (anyone remember what a vassal is?).

Backchannel says it's testing the devices with friends and family now, and it currently syncs up with programming from only one TV station, Boston's WCVB Channel 5, at least for now. But Kokernak says that as more consumers make the switch to digital TVs, Backchannel will be offered on more channels, and that more companies will likely begin to offer this kind of service. "As TV turns digital, it's a more malleable language that allows more information to be embedded within the TV signal," he said.

In fact, Kokernak said that Backchannel, Tivo and Amazon are helping "usher in a golden age of television." Instead of 14 minutes per hour of TV commercials, networks will be able to show 60 minutes of TV commercials since the ads will be part of the content. That will help networks boost their budgets and deliver high-quality programming, he says.

"We are on the verge of a renaissance in Hollywood," he said.

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene

Photo credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press