Is Interactive TV About to Explode?

Seven out of 10 viewers surveyed by Harris Interactive last November and December already utilize their remotes to make their television watching experiences more dynamic. This includes scheduling DVR recordings, scrolling through programming options, and requesting content on demand. Research like this, coupled with such business deals as TiVo joining forces with YouTube and Nielsen Company using Charter Communications’s set-top boxes to conduct their surveys may hint that we’re on the verge of an interactive TV explosion.

All signs are pointing to an increase of interactive features on TV sets: an impending mandate for all digital TV, an industry in the midst of redefining itself, and users craving increased control over their content choices. There will be some intriguing opportunities for marketers if interactive TV (iTV) becomes widely adopted. But before iTV is commonplace in living rooms across the nation, several aspects of the platform must be refined to avoid becoming yet another trend that never lived up to its hype.

The most important of these is making certain navigation is user-friendly. No matter how great the perks and crossovers between the Internet and TV, no one will touch it if it isn’t easy to use. As such, iTV should take a page from the Internet and provide viewers the option of customizing their viewing experiences. This can include creating programming preferences or selecting a skin to tailor the navigation look and feel. Additionally, increased search capabilities could take current on-demand technology to the next level by filtering content by most popular episodes, most recent airings, or previous program selections.

What will it do for marketers?

ITV means marketers could have the real-time analytics and direct-response capabilities of the Internet combined with the effortless localization and visual appeal of TV. Eventually, iTV could blend social networking with television programming by creating preference lists viewers can share with their peers. Another example of a social adaptation is accessing March Madness brackets through TV sets, so viewers can track their brackets and see how fellow bracketeers are doing. As iTV progresses, there will also likely be a broader acceptance of using remote controls to vote on, purchase, or download advertised products. Sports fans could buy tickets for upcoming games, and music fans could download tracks from their favorite shows — all without picking up a phone, going online, or visiting a store. For marketers, this means ads will have to be interactive. Advertisers may have to evaluate viewer preferences and ultimately ask for input about how viewers want to be advertised to.

Behavioral targeting could also extend from the Web onto interactive TV sets. One example would be developing personalized landing pages of sorts to direct viewers to favorite shows that are currently airing, a list of recently recorded programs, or suggestions of upcoming shows based on past preferences. Beyond being useful, behaviorally relevant welcome screens can direct viewers to pertinent advertising messages and continue to improve the parameters of how marketers define targeted audience segments. The challenge for marketers is that TV is a shared medium, unlike the Internet, which is a one-on-one activity. How would an advertiser know if any given viewer is a man seeking sports updates or his wife wanting to watch “Dancing with the Stars”? While this presents a challenge, marketers would have a great advertising opportunity when viewing preferences overlap.

Analytics and ratings would also be drastically improved with the incorporation of more iTV features. Marketers would know when a particular advertisement, in what show, at what time, and after how many views actually leads to a purchase or request for more information. This is an opportunity to reduce uncertainty around brand interaction and brand awareness, as marketers would have real-time data about the effectiveness of their television ads and would be able to make changes to media plans accordingly.

By providing what users want (increased control, more content) and what advertisers want (additional access, advanced analytics), iTV applications might just breathe new life into this medium. Continuing the convergence trend across media platforms, adding Internet-like aspects to TV-watching experiences will give marketers improved capabilities to track campaigns across multiple channels. If the TV set joins the ranks of other direct-response devises, marketers will be one step closer to comparing apples to apples when executing a multiplatform advertising plan.

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