SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California tourism officials are taking the first step toward an interactive TV channel that would promote travel to the state and enable viewers to book their vacations as they watch television.

Caroline Beteta, executive director of the California Travel and Tourism Commission, said it is expected to take at least four years to develop the 24-hour interactive TV channel, dubbed The California Channel.

Beteta called the concept "the next big thing" in the state's tourism marketing efforts.

Beteta said the venture would be operated by a nonprofit organization, which would be set up after $15 million is raised from private industry to support the start of the channel, she said.

She said a business model for the channel is being developed by the commission, which is funded by public and private money.

The commission's goal is to have the channel running by 2006, by which time it is expected that TV and Internet technology will have converged and millions of consumers worldwide will have the ability to view hundreds of channels and book their travel online, she said.

Programming could include old TV shows shot in the state, such as "Baywatch" and "Streets of San Francisco," and new travel-related shows.

Travel agencies in the state previously have opposed some of the state's other marketing efforts, such as a booking engine linked to the state's Web site, claiming it is inappropriate for state resources to be used to bypass travel agencies.

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