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eBay comes to cable TV

All the thrills of QVC, if you're in Austin

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Comment The consumer electronics and computer industries could have saved themselves many billions of dollars if they'd remembered why people watch TV. Panicked by apocalyptic warnings of attention-deficit computer types, they threw their energies into making TV more "interactive" - with predictable for program quality and usability.

But the dream dies hard. Last week the BBC announced that it would allow bored computer owners to "remix" its news. Bill Gates insists that the future of TV is a split screen, with the broadcast program on one side and a page of classified Google ads on another. And former US Vice President Al Gore has announced his backing for a youth-orientated cable channel which, he promises, will flash a random sequence of Google search results at the viewer every thirty minutes.

Quite why anyone, young or old, would welcome an interruption to their favorite program from a blizzard of Viagra spam, weblog trackbacks and empty catalog pages wasn't explained.

What's wrong with these people? Must we make doses of Ritalin or Xanax mandatory for the directors and chief executives of US computer companies, and HTML coders?

However, there are a few TV formats that do lend themselves to interactivity, and the auction is just one. Time Warner will today allow its cable customers to participate in eBay auctions using a standard remote control - no other hardware is necessary. The trial is limited to Austin, Texas, and users must initiate the bid on their computer. But the progress of the auction can be followed, and further bids can be made. It isn't clear yet whether scammed auctioners will be able to appeal to eBay from the comfort of the sofa, but that's the next logical upgrade.

Time Warner says it will monitor the trial, which was done without eBays' direct involvement. It isn't quite "convergence", but then who cares? The less the internet and TV converge, the healthier they both are. ®

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