Palm Computing and the Promise of Real Convergence

The "convergence" of television and computers has been the elusive goal of Silicon Valley and Hollywood. But it has been happening recently right under their noses. The only company positioned to take advantage of this is Palm Computing. Just as Regis Philbin saved ABC-TV, Peter Tomarken can help save Palm Computing and make all of us want to indulge in some "Paranoia"!

Palm Computing and the Promise of Real "Convergence"
Mike Cane (

2000 by Mike Cane. All Rights Reserved.
Exclusive to Palm Infocenter

The Holy Grail of Silicon Valley and Hollywood is summed up in the buzzword "convergence." Various "interactive" and "on-demand" schemes have been tested -- and have failed -- on the road to this goal. Their scope has been ambitious and their failure has blinded everyone to what true "convergence" can be.

But true "convergence" has nearly arrived and hardly anyone has noticed.

It has been taking place on -- of all places! -- the Fox Family Channel, available on cable TV systems across the country.

It has been happening in the form of one of the new game shows that has been created to take advantage of the popularity of ABC-TV's megahit "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." The Fox Family Channel's entry is called "Paranoia" and it offers a glimpse of a future marriage between televisions and computers unlike anything foreseen by the "experts." It offers a huge opportunity, unprecedented in possible market size, and is tailor-made for Palm Computing and its licensees. In fact, this could be the first real reason for everyday people to actually want to buy a future version of Palm's current all-in-one wireless offering, the Palm VII.

ABC-TV's smash "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is a fifteen-question multiple-choice quiz show based on a British original of the same name. To become a contestant on the show, viewers call a toll-free 800 number to answer three questions in which the answer is some form of ordering (i.e., "Put the following words in order to form the name of a 1971 non-fiction book best-seller"). Winners from this initial competition (only 7% pass) are then randomly selected to play a second round of five additional questions of increasing difficulty. For each tape date of the program, ten of the winners from the second round of telephone competition are then further randomly selected to become on-air contestants. Once on the program, these ten players compete against a further "Put the following in order..." question for a chance to get in the Hot Seat, where they have the chance to answer questions that begin at a $100 win up to an eventual $1,000,000 jackpot. This is a program that, in its seeming simplicity, offers the kind of suspense and unpredictability that no scripted comedy or drama has offered audiences in decades.

Soon after the program's inception, ABC offered Internet users the chance to play online in mock games that also offered the same dramatic sound effects and music found in the TV show itself.

ABC has since increased the on-air program's interactivity by offering an "Enhanced TV" version of the Internet game in which viewers can play the game on the Net at the same time of the program's broadcast, with the same questions that appear to on-air contestants. Unlike the mock game, where both question and four possible answers appear, the Enhanced TV version tries to ensure players are actual viewers by only offering the four possible answers (which are meaningless without the question) as well as "bonus questions" that do not appear on the on-air program but which might relate to what host Regis Philbin is wearing or to which sponsor's advertisement is currently airing.

The runaway popularity of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" has led to NBC reviving "Twenty One" (a game that was rigged during its original run in the 1950s), CBS quickly failing with "Winning Lines" (from the same creators/producers of the UK "Millionaire"), Fox offering "Greed" (which tries to mimic the "look and feel" of "Millionaire") and, finally, just very recently, the debut of "Paranoia" on Fox Family Channel.

"Paranoia" is unique in TV game show history for a variety of reasons:

1) Its use of computerization allows it to have a "virtual set." If you were an in-studio audience member, you would see two people standing against a huge green screen. Viewers at home see a gigantic multisegmented video wall and pit which looks like it was derived from the first "Star Wars" movie. This is TV designed for the "Matrix" Generation.

2) Its use of remote locations. The in-studio contestant competes against three other players who are beamed in from their homes or public locations via satellite. (One recent program had a satellite contestant competing underwater in full scuba gear!)

3) It is LIVE. Everything is happening in real time. We are seeing that in-studio contestant now and those satellite players now. Nothing is -- or can be -- edited for time constraints. Being live actually does add an additional layer of suspense, if only because one is left wondering, "How can they finish this game in time? Look at the clock!" (And, yes, also: "Will the satellite links stay up?") Being live also adds a degree of topicality that the tape-delayed "Millionaire" cannot hope to match (on a recent program, one question dealt with a news report of that same day and another question was about an event that would take place in three days!).

4) It is truly interactive -- to the point of almost indulging in "divergence"! It goes beyond the "Enhanced TV" offered by "Millionaire" in two distinct ways. First, a RealAudio feed of the actual live show is available for those who cannot get to a TV but who do have access to a desktop computer (probably while still stuck at work!). Second, Internet contestants have a chance to actually win a prize and to step up one level from Internet player to possible satellite contestant (winning satellite contestants are then made in-studio contestants!). Internet participants have a true chance at competing in the game, not simply playing along for the fun of it (which is mostly the point of ABC-TV's "Enhanced TV"). And this is live competition. ("Divergence" emerges when one considers that people can actually play the game while totally ignoring the TV game -- and yet the Net competition cannot exist without the TV game!)

5) It is even more truly interactive. Aside from playing via the Internet, viewers can play via a toll-free number. Because, again, this is live. I have done this myself and won $50! (This is the largest amount most phone players have a chance to win. Unfortunately, there is no way to progress to in-studio contestant from this point.)

It is "Paranoia," which has gone largely unnoticed in the huge flow of cable TV programming, that points to the future of "convergence."

This is how it is now: It is Friday at 10PM (Eastern Time) and you are tuned to Fox Family Channel. "Paranoia" is beginning. "Get in the game," host Peter Tomarken exhorts. It's your choice: play by computer while ignoring the TV (it seems the TV is always in another room when cable is involved) and hoping the RealAudio stream keeps up (especially if you're going through a middleman such as AOL, which millions of people do for their Net access) or play by phone (redial, redial, redial...) while sitting in front of the TV. But shouldn't there be a better alternative? Yes.

This is how it could and should be: It is Friday at 10PM (Eastern Time) and you are tuned to Fox Family Channel. "Paranoia" is beginning -- live. "Get in the game," host Peter Tomarken exhorts. "Why not?" you think. You pick up your PalmOS PDA and attach the free wireless communications module to it and connect to a special "Paranoia" site on the web which allows you to become an at-home contestant. Like the "Enhanced TV" version of "Millionaire," this also ensures that players are viewers by transmitting only the possible answers. Unlike anything else that currently exists, however, during commercial breaks, special offers are transmitted to your PalmOS device. This is why the wireless communications module is free and why you can compete in "Paranoia." To continue in the game, and to guarantee the continued activation of this cellphone module, after some of the special offers, a one-question quiz pops up to ascertain if you have read the ad.

But this module is not simply for use only during "Paranoia." No. It is provided through a collaboration of television networks, cable TV channels, cellphone companies, advertisers, and TV show producers. It is good only for use during TV shows connecting to sites which run the "Live Action Protocol" (a special standard all TV producers and broadcasters have agreed upon). With it, you can play "Millionaire," "Paranoia" (which will always be remembered fondly for inspiring this largesse), "Greed," and anything else producers choose to offer to the public for actual prizes or prize money.

Imagine watching "Win Ben Stein's Money" and beating him even through the Best of Ten Test of Knowledge. Or watching "Hollywood Squares" and deciding that Whoopi really doesn't know the answer; she's bluffing so as not to look stupid. Or solving puzzles on "Wheel of Fortune."

And having the chance to get paid for doing so.

Other attempts at so-called "convergence" have been premised on a question that, when crudely put, basically boils down to: "How can we get more money out of people?" This puts the potential customer in the position of being a passive cash cow, with money flowing out of them, seemingly hypnotized by a vast array of things they never knew they even wanted (with the concomitant fear on the provider's part that their customers might wake up to discover they neither want nor need this so-called "vast array of things" -- which is the primary reason why all past attempts at "convergence" have failed).

Perhaps the question should have been, "What engages people's interest the most?" For most of us, the answer is: the chance to make money or to get things in a way that seems free and easy! Which precisely accounts, in large part, for the success of "Millionaire" and the current scramble for even more game shows on TV. Underlying all of them is the compelling message, "This could be you!" It is a formula that has worked and continues to work and will continue to work.

Imagine further, however, and let's sever the link for a time with TV. For if "convergence" is to work at all, it is a habit that must not simply be created and nurtured, but sustained as well.

It is your lunch break at work. For most people, this is still between 12-1PM. It is time to play "Time Zone," the first competition of a global nature. Using your PalmOS device with the Live Action Protocol wireless communications module, you tap into the TZ special site and have to answer five questions -- each separated by a brief ad -- and compete against several *hundred million* people across the face of the earth, who have also been playing during their lunch breaks (the quiz is only available for transmission during lunch breaks around the world, local time). Prizes range from a million dollars in local currency, trips to meet other players in their country, to a free dinner at a local restaurant of exotic cuisine. Questions, with multiple choice possible answers, are a global mix of topical information:

1) Yesterday, which of the following became the Prime Minister of Japan?

2) On which date will the national presidential election occur in the United States?

3) How many broadcast television networks exist in Great Britain?

4) On which continent is Katmandu located?

5) Which country has produced the most Nobel prize winners in Physics?

(OK, so I will never be a quiz show writer!)

The point is to grasp the essence of "Millionaire" -- that someone can actually win a million dollars, and why can't it be you? -- the excitement and liveness and expanded competition offered by "Paranoia" -- and to package this lightning into a bottle that virtually everyone will be able to afford (a PalmOS device is still less expensive, more portable, and simpler to use than any full-fledged PC or notebook) -- but without the limitations or expense of a special-purpose or single-use device -- and in a way that will allow everyone to choose the frenzy that appeals to them most. This is true "convergence" -- and beyond.

And some of that "beyond" might look like this:

* Dan Rather is delivering yet another update on the CBS Evening News about the Elian situation (after being sent back to Cuba, the kid has hopped a raft and floated over yet again!). Rather wants to know what the public thinks. The Live Poll is open, using the Live Action Protocol (which is basically, as has been shown, a secure, very fast, and very low-bandwidth polling protocol), and along with the millions of others tuning into the news, you let Dan -- and your neighbors -- know what should become of Elian.

* NBC is again broadcasting the Olympics live. Three events are available for live viewing. The hosts ask the viewers which they would like to see now, live, and which two should be taped for later. Women's gymnastics wins and men's weightlifting and men's volleyball will be taped for later airing.

* PBS is doing an experiment in live TV with its weekly "Mystery" series, featuring a sleuth who is not unlike Sherlock Holmes. Just as in the Conan Doyle stories, all of the clues are given to the audience to be reasoned out. During the course of the drama, using the Live Action Protocol module, audience members are quizzed on what is valid evidence and what is a red herring. The goal is to see if you can out-think the sleuth before the program concludes. The first one to do so will win a free one-year membership to the station.

* As a movie fan, you're always the first on line for a premiere. This time you've camped out for three days to see "Star Wars: Darth Awakens." When the movie is over, you pull out your PalmOS device with its Live Action Protocol wireless communications module, turn it on, and find that LucasFilm wants your opinion now -- and will give you the chance to win one of several props from the movie for your opinion.

Each use of your PalmOS device and Live Action Protocol wireless communications module during these polls accrues to the continued activation of your module. When you aren't trying to win a prize, you are earning the right to continue to participate by simply participating. "Convergence" means that you are active, not passive. And that your activity also has the possibility of being additionally rewarded through special offers, exclusive discounts, prizes, and other incentives.

To get a glimpse of this possible future, catch "Paranoia" on the Fox Family Channel. It's on this Friday (May 5th) at 10PM EDST live (9 Central, 8 Mountain, 7 Pacific), then again live on Saturday (May 6th) and Sunday (May 7th), both at the earlier timeslot of 7PM EDST (6/5/4). Do it now, because this might be its final weekend. Even though it's a pioneer, the Fox Family Channel has not committed to an extension of its run and this might be your only chance to see the future as it's being made -- live.

And then imagine what it would have been like if you could have played along on your PalmOS device -- live.

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Interesting, but...

George @ 5/5/2000 5:12:34 PM #
I felt like I was reading a promo for "Paranoia". I'm left wondering what the actual intent of the article was supposed to be: telling me how a game works, trying to muster support for yet another 'standard', a pitch for a game show, all of the above. (Now I have the urge to day:"D, and that's my final answer...")

I do like the idea of a FREE wireless communications device for my Palm IIIc.

RE: Interesting, but...
Randy @ 5/6/2000 12:27:47 AM #
What! Are you crazy? I was spellbound by every word. I kept pressing the buttons on my Palm hoping to see money fall from the sky. The article gave me great insight into this whole business of convergence. Paranoia was just a neat example. This article set my head spinning with money making ideas -- advertising banners on the Palm, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
RE: Interesting, but... @ 5/6/2000 9:29:35 AM #
There was way too much about Paranoia in this and not enough about how the Palm was involved until way too late in the article. If the first fourteen paragraphs had been shortened to about two it would have been much more interesting.
RE: Interesting, but... @ 5/6/2000 1:41:22 PM #
It is good to see comments to the article, even if they state it was rather long and heavy on the game show end of things. And yet, if we are to have the kind of convergence we need, I do believe that it will be -- of all things -- TV game shows that will drive it and that "Paranoia" is pointing the way. On "Millioniare," Regis states, "Our friends at AT&T..." -- what if he also said, "You can play along for prizes through our friends at Palm Computing and OmniSky"? Don't you think people would flock to stores to find out just what these things are, how much they cost, and how they could, in Tomarken's words, "get in the game"? I'd also be interested if any of you happened to watch "Paranoia." Sorry to concentrate so much on that one game, but if there had been another like it, I would have included it. mc

ICQ & Palm

Nekrataal @ 5/6/2000 12:51:38 AM #
Forget AIM, ICQ has had a version out for the Palm for a while now.

Writer sez WHY the article MATTERS!! @ 5/6/2000 2:43:15 PM #
I am compelled to give some more information in regard to my article about "convergence."

Between 1980-1986, I was touting BBSes (Bulletin-Board Systems) as the wave of the future. No one would listen. CompuServe was the prominent provider of online services back then and no one wanted to know about individuals who used their home computers as online systems. Some ten years after my struggle, lo, everyone was suddenly talking about this thing called the "Internet." Which, as it has since evolved, is truly nothing more than BBSes writ large.

What no one wanted to hear back in the eighties was that it would *individuals* and not sprawling conglomerates such as Time Inc. (now Time Warner), Times-Mirror, and Gannett and their like that would drive online communications. It would be individuals who have a passion and wish to communicate with others who also share that passion. Where do *you* go for information about your interests today? Do you http: over to a corporate site such as Palm Computing -- or to Palm Infocenter and other such non-corporate sites? And if Palm Computing tried to do a site like Palm Infocenter, would you trust it to be honest or disinterested? Former subscribers of AOL will tell you of their mistreatment and banishment at the hands of that corporation (see articles at and at probably many other websites from AOL victims) -- and I doubt that an entity such as Palm would do much better at letting users have their freedom.

What I see as the missed point of my "convergence" article is something that bothers two distinct camps: TV game show afficionados can't see the relevance to their current games, and PalmOS users can't see the point of getting excited over TV game shows. This is my "BBSes are the future!" rallying cry of some fifteen years back. Back then, computer companies had no interest in online services (Commodore Computers was a notable exception, and even Atari, for a time -- although too late -- began to show interest), and online services showed very little interest in harnessing the power of their users (just how myopic were they? A marketing manager at CompuServe pleaded with them not to waste time with their CB Simulator -- a forerunner of today's *globally*-popular ICQ and AOL's Instant Messenger and Chat Rooms!). Computer companies = TV game show fans. Online services = current PDA users.

And yet it took a game show -- "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" -- to shatter the long-held Top Ten List of the Nielsen ratings. I'm shocked myself. I am not a "game show fan" -- I don't care for much of what is on TV at all, be it drama or comedy -- but it is the promise of that million dollars for just fifteen questions answered that delivers a kind of excitement I would never find in say, a $10,000 win on "Wheel of Fortune" or -- to get even less exciting -- "Jeopardy." I came late to "Millionaire." I didn't even know it was on until I happened to come across John Carpenter winning his million (the first million won in the show's global history at that time!).

Palm Computing offers an ease of use that even, yes, a Macintosh cannot deliver. You have to be virtually a complete and utter moron not to be able to use a PalmOS device. And yet, compared to our national population, penetration of Palms have not reached the level of even difficult-to-use PCs (and, yes, even Macs!). What is it that would compel people to *want* to have a Palm? What I point to in the article: the possibility of getting something *from* it. There are those who have already speculated on PDAs of different varieties being so cheap a few years from now that they'll be given away for free. Why wait until then? Palms exist now, OmniSky exists now, the Palm VII wireless network exists now -- why wait for Bill Gates to get WinCE out front first? I concentrated on "Paranoia" because it is the first -- and only -- *national live game show ever*. This is not insignificant. Just recently we had a movie called "The Truman Show." Well, in a few short months, some of you might be tuning into upcoming TV programs such as "Survivor" and "Big Brother," which are "The Truman Show" in reduced form. Fiction turns into fact pretty fast these days.

A good reality check would be to take a quick poll of the tens of millions of people lining up in several states this weekend for a chance at the three hundred million dollar-plus jackpot of "The Big Game" lottery. Find out how many of them are carrying Palms (or *any* PDA). Then ask how many of them would rather be sitting *at home* -- or sitting *anywhere else*, for that matter -- and be able to enter the lottery *wirelessly* via a PalmOS device. My bet is that given the choice, they'd rather skip the lines. That's a huge untapped market for Palm (and any PDA maker) and they're the ones who will supply the missing critical mass for "convergence," not the ongoing failed schemes of the shiny and over-groomed corporateers. mc

RE: Writer sez WHY the article MATTERS!!
George @ 5/7/2000 10:22:41 PM #
You know, there is something to be said about standing in a long line waiting to fork over some dough for a chance to win millions. It just is not the same if you do it wirelessly. No fun in that! No excitement. No real money passes from my grubby to hand to some clerk's hand. Until that feeling can be nullified or reproduced, count me out.

Still, there are many advantages to a 'connected' it a Palm OS handheld, one of the handheld's from the MS's or even a 'internet appliance' from the third monopolist-SUN. But, let's not forget, these are PERSONAL devices. And, yes, some kind of convergence may happen, eventually. Remember, the tech playing field is littered with many, many schemes and devices all in the name of convergence. Witness: ONTV-that experiment in the early 80's in Columbus, Ohio; the Intellivision on line game service; all of the various 'teletext' schemes (gee, they returned in the form of AOL and web pages, eh?); Newton (a stretch, I know); any number of plans and schemes involving some kind of cheap computer and cable television; even the wild notions of mating video games to televisions (which goes back to the mid 1970's) and such. I think you may be able to add to that: WebTV, the new WebTV competitor (saw the ad, forget the name) and such. Yes, they are cheap and very easy to use, and that is the problem. 'Serious' people will avoid them, 'newbies' may buy them and like them at first, but then drop them when they try to do any real work on them. I hope this fate does not befall the handheld arena, but if all of this convergence begins, I'm afraid it might end up on the tech junk pile. The handhelds are just too small. They are nice for doing simple things, but, let's face it, you will end up doing most things on your computer. I hope I am wrong. I love my IIIc and cannot wait for a cheap way to connect, wirelessly, to the 'net. (I do so now with my trusty little 14.4 clip on modem.)

Anyway, I've rambled on too long. You have some good ideas, but I somehow do not think game shows are going to be the answer. "Who wants to be..." is going to fizzle's only a matter of time. I give it another six's ratings are already wavering.

BTW-it's SAYS, not sez.

RE: Writer sez WHY the article MATTERS!! @ 5/8/2000 10:45:35 AM #
"sez" is slang. I would have expected someone who recalls Teletext (nice touch, seeing how it is now AOL!) to know that. You can stand on lines. I have grown to even hate shopping for things I *like* since ordering on the Net takes up so much less time. mc
RE: Writer sez WHY the article MATTERS!!
George @ 5/8/2000 6:06:21 PM #
I knew that about 'sez.' (It was meant sarcastically, sorry.) It's something I have never liked. It makes us look like idiots (kind of like using 'irregardless' or 'quote/unquote'-you cannot 'unquote' someone after quoting them...or, worse yet, 'warez.')
Don't get me wrong, I order online all of the time. I consider it like watching a video: I like the convenience of the video, but there are certain movies that just need to be experienced in a movie theater. After all, that's why we (some of us) try to duplicate that at home, though my wife does not like the gum on the floor...

Human nature dictates that we socialize-and what better way to do that, than shopping. Home shopping is HUGE and will get bigger, but it will never replace going to a brick and mortar store. Same is true for most goods (including the lottery.) There's just something about going out that most of us will not want to give up.

RE: Writer sez WHY the article MATTERS!! @ 5/9/2000 8:51:23 AM #
Well, let's just say that "sez" is classic slang, while I too abhor "warez."

I'm afraid that our thinking will never meet in any sort of middle ground. I disagree even with your notions of "human nature"! The desire to go to a movie theater entirely depends on your past experiences there, where it is located, and who invariably comprises the audience. After a decade of putting up with imbeciles in theaters, it is a rare thing that will get me into a theater. I entirely disagree too that there is a generalized "human nature" that "dictates" we socialize. It is such generalizations about "natures" that has caused most of the trouble in the world. mc

If not Palm, then NINTENDO? @ 5/6/2000 6:13:56 PM #
If Palm doesn't do it, perhaps we will be using devices from *Nintendo* or *Sony* -- two behemoths in the current world of video games (and each of which have penetrations into the national population that exceed PalmOS devices!). Perhaps this is an underlying reason for Sony licensing the Symbian EPOC OS, even though they had already publicly gone with Palm's OS. The PalmOS is not very robust for gaming -- especially when compared to EPOC. EPOC also has a huge edge in that plenty of cellphone companies have a say in it, which gives them a vested interest in the idea of such wireless "convergence." Perhaps, very unfortunately, we'll wind up using devices from the Japanese with an OS from the Europeans -- while we Americans are once again cast in the global role of jesters (viz, Hollywood)! (And even there we won't be certain of our lead -- "Millionaire," "Survivor" and "Big Brother" are all based on British/European originals! -- as is the upcoming Comedy Central game, "Don't Forget Your Toothbrush".) mc
RE: If not Palm, then NINTENDO?
Ryan @ 5/7/2000 10:49:12 AM #
RE: If not Palm, then NINTENDO?
I.M. Anonymous @ 5/7/2000 12:41:36 PM #
I went and read tha story. Hey, Palmists, check out this closing paragraph:

"Nintendo has sold over 80 million Game Boys since their introduction. A version with a color screen, introduced last year, and the "Pokemon" game phenomenon, have helped sales remain strong. The devices are selling so well that Nintendo expects to post a seventh year of record profit."

-- Palm cannot even begin to boast of making a dent in that kind of sales figure. It seems to me that all Nintendo has to do now is to wake up to the fact they should be producing a tie-in TV game show! mc

RE: If not Palm, then NINTENDO? @ 5/7/2000 12:43:48 PM #
The above "mc" comment was from me, who forgot to include his email address, yet did have his fingers remember to put in a typo! mc

NEW: ! @ 5/9/2000 8:56:29 AM #
Tuesday, May 9, 2000, at about 8:45AM, I was channel hopping on CATV and came across an extraordinary CNN report.

When I said in my Addendum, "Fiction turns into fact pretty fast these days," I didn't expect it to be *this* fast.

A site at" CLASS=NEWS> is going to -- what is the term? netcast? -- offer a *live* global trivia game in which Net players can win $1,000,000. I will spare everyone the details of how this will work; just click on their link to see their site. All I will say is that this is just one step away from the points I was trying to bring across in my piece. mc



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