China could leapfrog its way to world leadership in the development of interactive digital television, according to a key technology vendor. 'China has an incredibly aggressive target to digitalise the TV industry,' said NDS Asia Pacific vice-president and general manager Sue Taylor. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) has a target of digitalising 30 per cent of China's cable TV households. NDS, part of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's empire, is one of the leading providers of conditional access systems and interactive applications for digital television. According to Sarft, there were 80 million cable TV subscribers as of last February. The broadcasting authority has forecast that the number of cable TV subscribers will reach 120 million this year. 'There are more activities [in interactive TV] going on in China than anywhere else of the world,' Ms Taylor said. Sarft was determined to build a digital TV platform in China and had poured in US$5 billion in investment this year. Ms Taylor, who has been in China for six years selling digital and interactive TV technology, said 12 key provincial cable TV networks that together account for more than 70 per cent of domestic cable subscribers either were in the process of tendering to build digital TV infrastructure or were considering plans. 'China is leapfrogging the digital broadcasting technology,' Ms Taylor said. Sichuan Cable TV, which has 7.14 million subscribers and accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the country's cable TV market, would be the front runner in China to commercially roll out interactive TV, she said. NDS has signed a contract with Sichuan TV to jointly develop stock trading applications for their subscribers. This is expected to be launched by next August. Ms Taylor believed that, within the next two years, most of China's leading cable TV operators would complete plans to layout their digital TV infrastructure and begin to offer interactive TV services once the digital TV network was in place. By then, NDS expects, the roll-out of interactive TV will be at a much faster rate than in the United States, as China would have a higher proportion of Chinese cable subscribers with interactive TV than US cable subscribers. In the US, there are about 67 million cable subscribers now, of which about eight million are digital cable subscribers. NDS estimates that about 200,000 to 300,000 of these have interactive TV services today. China Central Television, the flagship TV broadcaster of Sarft, would be one of the primary drivers for the growth of China's interactive TV business, according to Ms Taylor. CCTV and NDS have recently completed a test providing interactive TV services for audiences in 12 provinces, covering the Chinese National Games. Ms Taylor said the test was very successful, as about 5,000 TV viewers had subscribed to the services. It allowed TV viewers to choose to view four different sports, check scores and medals charts, link to CCTV's Web sites for live chat with other viewers and see their names on the TV screen. Due to the success of the trial, Ms Taylor said, CCTV was planning to extend it to the Winter Olympic Games and the World Cup, as well as to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The CCTV will link with NDS in launching an electronic programme guide and interactive sports service that will be carried on the majority of digital cable networks in China.