Music video channel encouraging real interactivity between TV screen, computer, and viewers:
- For most music fans, deciding whether to buy Mariah Carey or Ashanti is a matter of musical taste. But for fans of "IMX," the "interactive music exchange" on the digital cable channel MuchMusic USA, choosing between Ms. Carey and Ashanti has less to do with current singles than with a sense of which artist's stock is more likely to rise.
On "IMX," pop star popularity is traded like virtual stock, with an artist's shares going up or down in value as his or her popularity index - determined by the "buy" and "sell" orders of "IMX" players - crests and wanes. Online, there's an interface that lets users monitor both their own accounts and the general shape of the market; on air, a ticker bearing information like "NORAH 146.78 +5.67" (on the day after Ms. Jones's Grammy Awards sweep) scrolls at the bottom of the screen as the hosts chat and banter. On the whole, it looks like some bizarre parody of CNNfn.
But for those playing, "IMX" is as absorbing as any interactive video game. Within two weeks of its mid-January premiere, more than two billion dollars in IMX-money was being traded daily. And while the money isn't real - contestants are given $1 million to play with when they sign up - the profit motive is genuine: IMX money is redeemable for prizes ranging from CD's to Sony Playstations.
It may seem odd for a cable channel to encourage its viewers to log on while watching one of its shows. But the president of MuchMusic USA, Marc Juris, pointed out that there was a time when nobody believed young people would turn on the television to "watch radio."
....By using interactivity as an extra feature within its programming, MuchMusic USA is able to bring not only a sense of narrative to its music-video shows, but also a sense of connection to its audience. As with online music forums, the channel encourages its audience to be honest in expressing opinions — even if those opinions are bluntly negative. "This audience had got very used to the idea of community on the Web, and sharing ideas and thoughts," Mr. Juris said. "So the notion of saying something sucks is totally O.K. with us, because we want to create this community, and get people passionate again about music."