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Interactive television is a marketing term, perhaps a marketing dream, that's been around for years. The idea is that if couch potatoes see something they like in a commercial, they can click on their remote to buy it. That idea is becoming more of a reality in the first large-scale rollout. A New York cable company next week will offer an early version of this service to its digital subscribers.

Jesse Baker has more from New York.

JESSE BAKER: It was supposed to be the "The Jennifer Aniston Effect." Back when "Friends" was still on NBC.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Friends")

Ms. JENNIFER ANISTON (Actress): (as Rachel) Well, excuse me, my fashion-impaired friends. I am here to tell you that hats are back.

BAKER: Aniston was the trend-setting, haircut-inspiring Rachel Green. The idea was that viewers could see her wearing a sweater or a skirt they liked and used their TV remotes to buy it. The idea never quite materialized before "Friends" went off the air, but the promise of interactive TV still lingers.

The media giant Cablevision next week is rolling out to millions of its cable subscriber's interactive commercials.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Woman #1: With the simple push of select button, get coupons, information and even free samples delivered right to your door. Optimum Select, coming this falls from IMTV.

Ms. GEMMA TONER (Cablevision): We made a conscious effort to not oversell and not overpromise what Optimum Select can do.

BAKER: That's Cablevision's Gemma Toner.

Ms. TONER: And as part of our marketing strategy we actually are truly delivering the products so that when they press select we're not telling them they can get a coupon. We are actually delivering that coupon to them.

BAKER: Just to be clear: You can't actually buy products off these commercials just yet. You can ask for more information or request a free sample of things like Benjamin Moore paint. It is one of a handful of national brands airing interactive ads across 25 cable networks in the greater New York area.

Sam Craig is a marketing professor at New York University and he thinks these types of ads would most appeal to a certain kind of viewer.

Professor SAM CRAIG (New York University): Someone that you'd categorize as an impulsive person. Someone that's very deliberate, that takes time to make decisions, is not going to respond to something on the television.

BAKER: And Craig says imagine how much product QVC could push if shoppers could just hit a purchase button on their remotes.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Woman #2: Say 14043 for the item number. Stay on the line for that one and we're going to go right into the earrings that you could wear with it.

BAKER: Interactive marketing seems destined to appeal to the infomercial clientele. You know, the same people who would order a Snuggie for their dog.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Woman #3: So how do you keep your dog warm when they're feeling a chill? Now there's Snuggie Dog, the little blanket with sleeves designed to fit your dog.

BAKER: Cablevision would love for you to just press a button on your remote and buy a Snuggie, but that's not where they are yet, and Cablevision's Gemma Toner says don't expect these commercials to revolutionize the advertising world. For now, she's happy with interactive baby steps.

Ms. TONER: But I think in the beginning we should just be realistic and conscious of how consumers are thinking about this and how they react to it.

BAKER: Cablevision's first big challenge though will be reprogramming consumers' relationships with their remotes - so when you see a commercial, learning to press the select button and resisting the urge to hit fast forward.

For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker in New York.

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