Interactive Feature Getting Terrific Reception, ABC Says

December 05, 1994 Chicago Tribune

By Steve Nidetz

Jonathan Leess, who helps to oversee ABC Sports’ cruise down the information superhighway as vice president for production planning, knows firsthand how addictive that ride can be.

After staying in his office until early Tuesday morning for the launch of the “Monday Night Football” interactive feature in October, Leess decided to keep peace in the family by working at home the next week. “I went down to my computer about 5 minutes to 9,” says Leess. “About 10:30, I hear a door slam upstairs. I figured I just should have stayed in the city. It gets so consuming that time just flies.”

The live on-line “Monday Night Football” statistics, updated after every play, are supplied directly from ABC Sports’ production mobile unit to America Online subscribers. In addition, Steve Eisenberg and Tim Pernetti, the network’s on-line specialists, keep up a running commentary and trivia contests.

To access the “Monday Night Football” stats, an AOL subscriber has to click on to the ABC icon, click into Auditorium and again into Coliseum. It takes only a few seconds.

“The reception by users has been terrific,” says Leess. “We’ve gotten mostly positive feedback. . . . And every week, we see an increase of users. . . . What we’ve realized is that we’re just scratching the surface.”

At first, AOL officials didn’t want to do much scratching, telling Leess that ABC couldn’t operate the kind of real-time statistical scoreboard it wanted to use in real time. After all, even the stock-market reports screened on the Internet have to be closed and reopened to be updated.

“We came up with the idea of using what they call auditoriums, where people chat,” Leess says. “We figured we could enter into that area through another computer that takes the information and translates it into English. We’ve been pretty much doing it on our own. Even the America Online people have been fascinated by it. They thought it was a terrific concept. It’s given them ideas to go further in their development. And we’re thinking up ideas.”

One such idea is a Super Bowl area on AOL. “We’ll have a screen in the ABC area completely dedicated to the Super Bowl,” says Leess, acknowledging that the NFL championship this year will air on ABC, making a logical tie-in. For the Super Bowl, Leess expects another increase because “since we’ve been doing this, we could have 1,000 people. By the time of the Super Bowl, AOL says they can hold 2,000 people in an auditorium.”

Also for the Super Bowl, Leess will introduce a direct feed into QB1, an interactive game usually played in bars and restaurants.

“Conceivably during the Super Bowl, if you have a Windows environment, you could have a window that shows you stats and plays like on Monday night,” says Leess. “In a window right next to it, we hope to have a guest on-line taking questions and doing commentary. And in another window, you’d be playing QB1. We want to take advantage of the technology and push it to the end of the envelope.”

While Leess and marketing vice president Keith Ritter are developing interactive games that will bear the network’s ABC brand, the other broadcast networks appear to be using on-line services strictly for promotional purposes. For now, ABC is riding alone on the information superhighway. And it’s having a hoot.