Digital:Convergence Makes Leap to iTV

Digital:Convergence, the Dallas company best known for its :CueCat print ad scanner, now aims to combine TV ads with Web marketing, debuting its :CueTV product and a deal with NBC to support the service.

The new offering functions similarly to the :CueCat, a handheld scanner attached via cable to a user’s PC. The :CueCat loads Web pages when it scans bar codes embedded in print ads or articles — like in Wired or Fortune magazines, or certain Verizon local yellow page listings.

The new :CueTV setup works in much the same way. By receiving a unique TV signal (an audible “ping” and an on-screen cue), a connected PC will load a related Web page — allowing advertisers or TV producers to create links to additional content, product information, or special offers. The pages can be targeted via gender, location or age range — a :CueCat or :CueTV user enters that information when registering the service.

Few details were made public of Digital:Convergence’s arrangement with NBC. The Dallas firm receives a cut from each instance of a :CueCat enhancement, in addition to an overall license for the technology. Presumably, NBC will be able to charge advertisers a higher rate for :CueTV-enabled ads.

“Our technology marries the TV and PC in a way that allows viewers to experience the best of what both devices have to offer,” said Scott Carlin, who is president of Digital:Convergence’s Media Group. “NBC is the ideal partner to illustrate the scope and power of :CueTV.”

The move to iTV has long been expected for Digital:Convergence, especially since competitors like Wink Communications and others are already making strides in the arena for some time. Despite the late start, however, Digital:Convergence’s setup includes a couple of advantages over established competitors.

For one, the :CueTV enhancements are embedded into TV spots at the producer level. This means that Digital:Convergence doesn’t need separate deals with cable TV providers — the special interactivity codes are entered by network or ad producers, and reside in the spot, rather than on a cable signal.

It’s not “true” iTV in the sense that interactive content from the TV appears on users’ PC, rather than on the television screen itself. But Digital:Convergence spins this as a feature: advertisers’ TV spots remain uncluttered with interactive content.

“As a former producer, I’m not sure I would want the picture taken up with links, pictures, etc. while I’m trying to communicate through an ad,” said Jay Feldman, executive vice president of Digital:Convergence’s media group. Feldman has also held positions at Lorimar-Telepictures and CBS Television.

Secondly, Digital:Convergence has an already-established base of 1.5 million :CueCat users. At least potentially, Wink has about twice that number, though it’s unknown how many of its three million users have digital-cable television setups.

Furthermore, Digital:Convergence expects its TV service will only boost those numbers because it’s inexpensive, and fairly easy to install. The 20-foot cables that link PCs to TVs are available for free at Radio Shack stores nationwide, and connect a VCR or TV’s “audio out” jack to a PC’s “audio in” port. (For users whose PCs aren’t located near a TV, Digital:Convergence has a wireless version available for about $20, also at Radio Shack.)

But just to be sure the product takes off, the company will be incentivizing new users — and getting the word out about NBC’s new capability to broadcast :CueTV-enhanced shows and commercials — with a month-long contest that requires the service.

Beginning June 13, “NBCIQ” will give away $400,000 in prizes for viewers’ ability to answer trivia questions on Web sites that appear in conjunction with particular house spots. Starting this Thursday, however, the two partners will run several 30-second spots daily to encourage users to :CueTV-enable their TVs in advance of the contest launch.

“Until now, watching television and using a computer have been disconnected experiences,” said John Miller, president of The NBC Agency, the network’s in-house ad agency that launched in 1999. “With :CueTV, we can build a bridge between these two powerful media, and at the same time reward loyal NBC viewers.”

Aside from the :CueTV-enabled trivia spots, in summer NBC will begin rolling out television shows linked to Web sites through Digital:Convergence’s technology. The partners declined to discuss which programs would be included.

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