Shawmut National Corp. has signed on as one of the first users of an interactive television system from AT&T Consumer Products.
The new product, which uses ordinary phone lines as its information conduit, will deliver banking and other information-based services.
Beginning in the second quarter, the Hartford- and Boston-based banking company will use the system to offer home banking and bill payment services through customers' television sets.
The new service "will allow the bank to deliver (via television) the types of transactions it is delivering today over the phone," said Robert B. Hedges Jr., executive vice president at the $31 billion-asset banking company.
Mr. Hedges added that the service will appeal mainly to non-users of personal computers who want a simple way to do remote banking.
The system, known as the TV Information Center, consists of a set-top box and a remote control unit that cost $329. It is the first in a series of intelligent devices for the home that AT&T plans to produce.
Initially, the product will be sold only at AT&T Phone Center stores and selected retail outlets in the Northeast, but sales will be expanded to other areas of the country later in the year.
The introduction of interactive television technology is part of AT&T's "three-screen strategy" for offering interactive services.
The Parsippany, N.J.-based telecommunications giant is prepared to support all three advanced delivery-system alternatives for the home - televisions, PCs, and screen-based telephones - out of a conviction that all will gain consumer acceptance in the next few years.
Some providers want to emphasize TVs because virtually all U.S. homes have them - 100 million, compared to 30 million with PCs - and consumers are comfortable with them.
Screen telephones have not yet significantly penetrated the consumer market, observers say.
"Our ultimate vision is to support services on a variety of devices," said Blaise Heltai, director of marketing and strategy at AT&T Consumer Products.
AT&T Consumer Products president Carl Ledbetter said the company will offer at least four versions of intelligent devices this year and that all will display information on a screen.
AT&T's basic package of information services will include voice and text messaging, news items, sports scores, local traffic and weather, and daily stock updates.
Information content will generally come from sources outside of AT&T. Fax and E-mail capability will be added later in the year.
Future partners will be able to download their services over phone lines to the set-top box at the customer's request.
To access the services, consumers use the remote control - which works with multiple brands of TVs - to choose from an on-screen menu of information and telephone-answering functions.
Neither Shawmut nor AT&T has announced fees for its services.
Shawmut's interactive television service complements other initiatives in remote banking, said Mr. Hedges.
The bank recently transformed its telephone center into a "virtual branch" that offers an array of consumer deposit and credit products.
The center was upgraded with an AT&T automated phone system - a setup valued at $20 million - that provides customers with information on loan and mortgage payments, among other things.
Later in the year, the bank will roll out additional services available over the phone and TV, including calculator functions, personal financial management, and advisory services.
In addition to Shawmut, AT&T will also partner with Zenith Electronics Corp., Glenview, Ill. Zenith plans to integrate the TV Information Center into its television sets and cable set-top boxes beginning next year.