Question: What do you get when you cross a remote control, an OpenTV set-top box, and a home viewer who searches the Web while watching sports? Answer: ABC's target audience.
When it comes to iTV, what's better -- one screen or two?
The way Walt Disney Internet Group's Enhanced TV (ETV) unit sees things, there's no reason to choose. You can do both, according to the organization's philosophy. Some campaigns it undertook in January, deployed with sister company ABC, illustrate this idea perfectly. Doing both, however, is no simple task.
Let's begin with some definitions. ETV divides iTV into two categories. The first is what you'd expect: applications that you can interact with directly through your television. These ETV defines as a "single-screen" or "push channel."
The second targets that class of consumers that surfs while watching the tube (47 percent of U.S. Web users, according to comScore Networks), retaining the passive experience of TV while adding interactivity through the online medium. These creative executions ETV refers to as "two-screen" -- or its "pull channel."
"We do two different forms of interactive TV," said Rick Mandler, vice president and general manager of the ETV Group. "We do sync-to-PC, and we do apps that work with a remote control and a set-top box."
When ABC or its advertisers want remote-controlled interactivity (what we normally think of as iTV), they use OpenTV subsidiary Wink Communications. Wink's solution allows advertisers, broadcasters and cable networks to package interactive functions with their broadcast content. In January, ETV ran two such campaigns on ABC, with accompanying "two-screen" interactivity.
Bowl Games and Music Awards
The first was a combined iTV and converged Web/PC launch for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) on ABC Sports from January 1 through January 3, sponsored by Ford.
The Wink-enhanced program allowed sports fans to use their set-top box remote controls to scroll through real-time stats, access the scores of other games, and obtain more info about the eight competing BCS teams.
"Sports programming has been one of the most successful avenues for introducing interactivity," said James Ackerman, CEO of OpenTV, prior to the program's launch. "We believe that bowl game viewers will enjoy the interactive enhancements powered by Open TV's Wink service."
There were also instant polling features, which let users voice their opinions throughout the game, both on the ETV application and on-air; and each user playing ETV for any bowl game was eligible to win a paid trip for two to the 2004 National Championship Game.
The second January campaign that used both "one screen" and synchronous content took place during the American Music Awards (AMA), which aired on January 13 and was sponsored by Coca-cola. ETV and Wink produced various Coke-sponsored interactive features, including an ETV "Predict the Winner" game; Wink-enhanced graphics and behind the scenes info; and trivia, instant polling and live comments that were offered on both channels. Like the BCS sponsorships, the Coke AMA programming also offered an expenses-paid trip to next year's event.
Mandler believes it's important not to let iTV applications like Wink's upstage the power of ETV's two-screen applications. Despite the fact that the technology is less exciting, he says the creative potential of synchronized Web and TV content is as great or greater than that of "push" iTV.
"With the single screen, you don't have to move your head. It's a simpler interface and it's conceptually more user friendly," he said. "But the PC is a much richer platform, with all kinds of more impactful interfaces."
As an example, he cites the Web content that was developed to accompany the Super Bowl ads for Hanes. The creative was designed to coincide exactly with the airing of a Hanes ad. In one of the "Go Tagless" ads, a person reaches outside the TV screen to grab a backscratcher. Anyone viewing the campaign's Web portion at that moment would see the character appear in a skyscraper banner in the browser window, grab a backscratcher, and disappear.
"The guy reaches from the push frame into the pull frame, grabs the scratcher and pulls it back," Mandler said. "That's just great. The Hanes creative was very strong."
According to Mandler, the original motive for jumping into interactive television had a lot to do with enlarging the budget.
"Number one was we felt that making TV interactive and especially making TV ads interactive was a way of reaching into the direct marketing budget, which is usually much bigger than advertising. If we can move some of that into TV, big win."
John Gee, VP of sales for Wink, agreed: "TV is an approximately $52 billion industry. Direct marketing is more than double that. Certainly, using Wink is one way to tap into that budget."
However, according to Gee, Ford's BCS sponsorship and Coke's AMA sponsorship were messaging campaigns without a direct marketing component.
"Wink can be used as a direct marketing tool, where you can ask for information," Gee said. "Not true in this case. The interactive material for Ford and Coke simply provided information about what was happening in the commercial, such as trivia about the actors and performers in the spots."
The iTV material did not sell anything or collect user information. Therefore, he said, the Wink programs for Coke and Ford fall squarely into the branding category.
The Trouble With iTV
Developing and executing the various ABC iTV programs has often been a complicated task. Consider the sheer number of stakeholders in the campaigns.
"Coordinating between the various players was hard," Mandler said. "It was necessary to coordinate with the client, the creative agency, the buying agency, Ford and Coke's production teams, our production team, and ABC's sales department."
Indeed, the special challenge posed by iTV and synchronized Web and broadcast campaigns can be found exactly here: in the difficult coordination of many departments. So how did Mandler and ETV solve the problem?
"Lots and lots of phone calls."
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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