opinion

Continuing Medical Education TVInteractive TV for doctorsThis ongoing series examines interactive marketing and looks at ways in which advertisers are using the technologies to solve marketing problems.Charles deGruchy is managing partner of Salter deGruchy, a Toronto- and New York-based direct marketing...

Continuing Medical Education TV

Interactive TV for doctors

This ongoing series examines interactive marketing and looks at ways in which advertisers are using the technologies to solve marketing problems.

Charles deGruchy is managing partner of Salter deGruchy, a Toronto- and New York-based direct marketing communications consultancy.

Starting June 6, about 5,000 doctors in Quebec will be able to tune into the world’s first interactive medical programming for the continuing education of doctors.

Called CME TV Network (Continuing Medical Education), it just received authorization last month from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to begin broadcasting eight hours per day by closed-circuit through the Videotron Interactive cable system in Montreal.

The pharmaceutical companies are interested. And who can blame them?

Pitching drug firms

The programming for cme tv does not allow for direct advertising, but it is unabashedly pitching to the drug companies for educational material – provided it can pass its editorial board.

According to the president of cme tv, John Kuyk, the kicker is that about 20% of the 56 hours per week of program content will consist of material for continuing education credits that will be recognized by all of the medical universities in Quebec, the Federation of General Practitioners of Quebec, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

The way it will work is that about three-quarters of the way through a program, a code will appear on the tv screen.

If the doctor presses this code on his or her special Videotron remote control, it activates the Videotron telemetrique channel. Questions will then appear with multiple choice answers.

Using the remote again, the doctor chooses an answer. If it is correct, he or she will be given additional information, and if the answer is wrong, the doctor is told the reason why.

At the end of the battery of questions, another code appears on screen, which the doctor then enters on his or her telephone by dialling a special number. This confirms participation and credits the doctor for this particular program.

The programming will not only be supplied by the pharmaceutical companies, which will get an end-credit plug, but cme will also be publishing a program guide that will include more traditional forms of print advertising – presumably in sufficient quantities to make the enterprise a success.

Quebec cable operator Videotron, for those who have been hibernating through the last few years of interactive hooplah, is quite possibly the world’s leading pioneer in doing something besides talking about the much-hyped information superhighway.

Just as an aside, I might add that Wired magazine is skeptical of the ‘highway’ metaphor that u.s. President Bill Clinton is so fond of using.

Anything but free

‘Highways,’ according to Wired, are public facilities paid for with tax dollars and used freely by everybody (except for toll roads, of course.) Whereas the shipment of information is more likely to be via an electronic equivalent of the railway – which was built by private entrepreneurs for their own profit, and were (and are) anything but free.

Because the information superhighway is really more like the railway, we are seeing the new robber barons (it seems as if history really does repeat itself once every century), ranging from our own Mr. Rogers to the unconsummated deal-of-the-century between Bell Atlantic and Telecommunications, which collapsed two weeks ago, possibly, according to The New York Times, because it represents an ‘extreme risk’ and ‘iffy revenues.’

According to the Times, projected revenues for the multimedia market’s size in 10 years range from US$10 billion to US$150 billion a year, with a reality check tilt towards the lower end of the scale.

Nobody knows, in fact, just what this interactive boondoggle represents, and that brings us back to the biggest unknown, which is: what does the consumer really want? And how much will he or she pay for it?

You can take the Field of Dreams approach – ‘If we build the highway, they will come,’ or you can remember what Disney Chairman Michael Eisner said a propos the media frenzy over the digital convergence activities of last winter. ‘Everyone else is making deals with the phone company. We’re starting a hockey team.’

Meanwhile, Videotron is the only company that is getting any real-world experience with cable-delivered interactive video.

Admittedly, the Videoway system is not everybody’s version of interactivity.

Multiplex system

Using a multiplex system of four simultaneous channels, individually accessible through the remote, you can select your choice of camera angles on a hockey game, or pick one of four car commercials (your choice of minivan, sedan, compact, or whatever); and you can use it for direct home shopping, so you can pick your choice of St. Hubert chicken dishes for delivery.

Videoway claims about 160,000 subscribers in Quebec, with tests under way in the u.k., Denmark, and, most recently, Ohio.

That is not enough to tell us conclusively which end of the dollar scale that interactive highway, or railway, is ultimately going to be worth.

But it is safe to say that if you know how to use it properly, say, to reach 5,000 Quebec doctors (and as many as 9,000 by the end of the year), with the right product, it may yet prove to be more profitable than starting a hockey team.