The Toronto Star
Wednesday, January 15, 1997

Metro firm buys rights to V-Chip

Expected in stores by September

by Robert Brehl, bbrehl@tsnl.com

The Canadian inventor of the electronic chip that allows parents to block sex and violence from their TVs has sold the worldwide rights to the technology.

But neither Tim Collings, a Simon Fraser University professor in Vancouver, nor the purchaser of the V-Chip rights, Tri-Vision Electronics Inc. of Scarborough, would disclose how much the deal is worth.

Collings said he and his private company, Canadian V-Chip Design Inc., will gain equity in Tri-Vision, and will receive royalties as revenue from the V-Chip grows.

Collings was appointed to the board of Tri-Vision last year.

``I was excited to find a Canadian company and move forward with a Canadian innovation'', Collings said yesterday.

Tri-Vision makes hardware and software for the cable television and multimedia industries. The company sells more infra-red converters to Canadian cable companies than anybody else.

Investors, however, were not enamoured by the splashy news conference announcing the deal. Tri-Vision closed down 60 cents at $3.75 yesterday on the Alberta Stock Exchange in heavy trading of 1.5 million shares.

Tri-Star has 34 million shares, but only 8 million are in the public float.

Cam Siddiqui, vice-president of engineering with Tri-Vision, said the market for decoders could be $200 million during the next five years.

The decoder boxes, about the size of a telephone, will be able to limit access to programs based on factors such as violence, language, and obscenity. The boxes will probably retail for about $100, Siddiqui said.

Tri-Vision estimates about 20 million households in North America have children under the age of 12 whose parents may purchase a decoder, Siddiqui said.

The decoders will be available in Canada by September and in the United States soon after. Tri-Vision won the Canadian rights to the V-chip technology last May.

In addition, the V-Chip will also be built into all new U.S.-made TV sets, Collings said.

U.S. President Bill Clinton has ordered the chips installed in all new sets by next Jan. 1.

The V-Chip's introduction received a boost recently when U.S. networks NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox announced the implementation of on-screen television ratings similar to those used to rate movies.

``Television programming is going to become more explicit regardless of the V-Chip'', Collings said.

People concerned about growing TV sex and violence are ``not winning the battle in the United States.''

Collings, a father of three children under age 5 and a one-time Sunday school teacher, said he's confident governments and broadcasters will work out the difficulties and eventually fine-tune a rating system that works.

The Canadian broadcasting and cable industries have until April 30 to submit their own ratings system, fully incorporating the ability to program the V-chip, to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

But the project is more than a year behind schedule and a five-week test of 500 families in five cities across Canada is getting under way only after many delays.

``I don't think it's unreasonable that there be confusion at the beginning. We expect neither perfection nor applause'', said Trina McQueen, chairperson of the Action Group on Violence on Television, made up of broadcasters and cable TV companies and charged with co-ordinating a V-chip-based Canadian ratings system.

``It's almost like giving people a new language to deal with'', said McQueen, who is also president of the Discovery specialty TV channel.

She acknowledged glitches and problems have occurred in co-ordinating such a huge undertaking: devising detailed rankings for all programs appearing on TV.

Linda Leslie, manager of network scheduling at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., said problems have cropped up in distributing the TV-top decoder boxes for the V-chip, as well as encoding the V-chip signal that must then be decoded.

``With the next round of tests we'll find out whether we are on the right track or if we've completely missed the mark'', she said.


with files from Southam News.


Copyright © 1997 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.