UPDATE: United Virtualities has built a new ad product that allows user to interact with individual elements of a video clip.
United Virtualities is set to introduce a new rich media ad product that lets advertisers track detailed user interactions with multiple elements in a video clip.
Called Shoshmosis, the unit adds a Flash layer to any streaming video format, enabling users to roll over or click on individual elements within the frame. Marketers can apply it to repurposed television content, their own TV ads ported to the Web, or original Web programming.
It's not the first time a company has added Flash-based interactions to video. Amazon.com used the technology in the credits for a series of online films it produced in late 2004, and a company called eline Technologies offers software that adds interactivity to video in Quicktime. But Shoshmosis is the first product to sync interactivity with moving objects in any streaming video format.
"We have not invented putting a Flash mask over video," said United Virtualities founder Mookie Tenembaum. "What we have innovated is the possibility of synchronizing streaming video with interactions."
Marketers may get the most excited about the potential for adding interactivity to video product placements. Shoshmosis could let a person literally buy Jennifer Aniston's sweater while watching "Friends," a cliché touted by early online marketing acolytes. Indeed, the company's Shoshmosis demo offers that exact capability, showing a clip from the show in which a shirt worn by Aniston's character, Rachel, is clickable. Various items in the demo video appear highlighted when the user rolls the cursor over them. Clicking on those items opens secondary windows with more information about the products and links to buy them.
Alternatively, advertisers could apply the product to their repurposed TV ads. In an online automotive ad, for example, the user could click the car's wheels to get specific information about them.
The ad unit makes its debut as online video and product placement gain greater credence from advertisers. New attention to product placement has been driven partly by fears of personal video recorders and other ad-zapping technologies. Tenembaum describes Shoshmosis as a way to address advertising's declining effectiveness in the TiVo age.
"The only solution is a new deal between the users and the advertisers," he said. "That could be and should be product placement. Product placement is fine for TV, but people may notice it or they may not. If I'm watching "Friends" and I see somebody wearing a shirt or [I see] a television set or microwave oven, I need to know more about it. That's where the technology comes in."
Tenembaum said he's in talks with leading advertisers and agencies interested in the format but can't announce any relationships yet. He also said it's too early to say whether the company would offer the Shoshmosis as a bundled product, a service offering, or both.
"This is new; we don't expect to see the users now," he said. "If we take a rigid [approach to] marketing it, we may find ourselves swimming against the tide. We are prepared to adapt ourselves to the demands of the market."
United Virtualities has introduced several innovative -- and weirdly named -- products over the years. They include the Shoshkele, Ooqa Ooqa, and Yachne. Despite its unique ad formats and focus on new products, the company has a lower profile than some competitors who allocate more resources to sales and marketing.
"UV has always tried to innovate, to push new ideas and products into the market," said Jupiter Research analyst Nate Elliott. "It's hard to find a hit, but I give them all the credit in the world for trying, because too many of their competitors really aren't."
Shoshmosis is due to launch officially in three weeks.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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