When TiVo announced earlier this week plans to help its subscribers search for ads, there was plenty of scoffing. TiVo developing the new product in cooperation with a clutch of major media organizations: Interpublic Media, Omnicom Group's OMD, and Publicis Groupe SA's Starcom MediaVest Group, along with independent Dallas agency Richards Group and Comcast Spotlight, the company's ad-sales division. Yet detractors are asking why TiVo owners would search for ads. Didn't they invest in DVRs (define) in the first place because they crave ad-free TV viewing?
Though TiVo's plans raise more questions than answers, whether consumers will search for ads shouldn't be one of them. They do it all the time on the Web, be it for viral campaigns such as Virgin Mobile's Chrismahanukwanzakah or Ford's Fusion campaign (a random two out of an ocean of possibilities). And that's not to mention the universe of consumer-generated media (CGM). Heck, admirers of Daphna Kalfon's "I Love My Mac" song have not only turned it into a video, but they are busy translating it into a handful of languages.
Commentators like Jon Fine of "BusinessWeek" are missing the point. Ads certainly can be as on-demand as any other content. In fact, they often are.
But not TV ads. If TiVo and its partners expect to offer ads viewers will search for, you can bet those ads won't be broadcast-flavored, :30 spots. Because without a doubt, that's precisely what no one will ever search for.
"Destination" TV ads will be info- or advertainment, advertising video on demand (AVOD). Some may resemble paid search's minimalist text boxes, encouraging an online or phone call to action. Though the number of DVR users who skip ads entirely is close to 100 percent, according to some sources, AVOD is 100 percent opt-in. Sure, this changes all the rules -- but only the rules of television.
TV's been getting its feet wet in this arena for a long, long time. As JupiterResearch senior analyst David Card rightly points out, "What do you think Food Network is, anyway? And the Travel Channel? Branded entertainment? Infomercialtainment?"
Even with new guidelines for interactive video ads, TiVo's searchable ads have plenty of hurdles to jump. And leave plenty of questions unanswered on both the advertiser and consumer fronts.
Let's assume the content side is solved. The service is replete with entertaining, informative, compelling, immersive ads. Searching will still require considerable effort on viewers' part. "If they choose to use the search capability," says the press release, they must first create "a viewer contributed profile via the set-top box that will enable them to receive advertisements based on their interests."
Without a keyboard, that sounds like a whole lot of work -- particularly in a lean-back medium. So does the keyword-search part: "subscribers... can conduct a search for a product by category or associated with keywords, utilizing the same revolutionary keyword search techniques offered with Internet advertising." Again, the lack of a keyboard makes this sound like a grueling, labor-intensive user interface.
Getting back to that profile thing. If you don't live alone, your TiVo is likely shared by every member of the household. Though this doesn't obliterate targeting, it certainly muddies the waters. It's not like you log in to TiVo on a per-user basis. And what about new ways consumers will soon begin to use TiVo, such as downloading the programming they record (ads intact) to handheld video devices, such as the new iPod? Although that sort of viewing is unlikely to be rampant, it certainly won't accommodate an easily accessed menu of searchable ads.
How this all shakes out on the advertiser side has its own set of problems and question marks. Pricing is still to be determined, as is advertiser willingness to invest in the venture (and if so, how much?).
If pricing is linked directly to a viewer's selection, will TV enter the era of click fraud? If ads are paid per view, what's constitutes a "view" of a long-form video commercial? Ten seconds? A minute? The whole thing? Perhaps it will be a pay-per-action (PPA) deal in which advertisers pay only for an additional viewer action, such as clicking to order a brochure or placing a call to a toll-free number. That's unlikely, though, considering the upfront investment in production.
Kind of brings you back to the '90s, doesn't it? Remember when online advertisers still hadn't defined a click or any of the other standards and metrics that govern the basic economics of interactive advertising?
Get ready for a new world of TV metrics in this new scenario, too. When BuzzMetrics announced the other day a new service to monitor TV show buzz, I asked marketing director Max Kalehoff if the service could translate to tracking searchable TiVo ads. "The answer is 'yes,' absolutely," he affirmed. "One of the underlying reasons for doing this is the TiVo effect. We're talking about TV programming, regardless of the delivery method."
If you're not researching a high-consideration purchase and seeking an answer to an immediate question, what would motivate you to search for an ad other than the reason people do so online? Buzz is really the only answer. Forward-to-a-friend isn't operative in this landscape.
What's still missing from a working scenario (other than price models and the all-important keyboard) is how, and if, CGM could enter into this equation. Ads will be fed to TiVo (one assumes) by agencies, not consumers. But will end viewers be able to record searchable TiVo ads and create mash-ups (and post them online)? Will celebrities and music labels allow their images and songs to be licensed for these types of ads if they're easily reedited and repurposed by end users?
If this thing takes off (and even if it doesn't), it's going to create some rather stunning chaos. Sean Carton is right, it ain't your grandfather's convergence!
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Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.
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