iTV Deals Heating Up as Web Media Cools

As bad news continues to emanate out of the Web advertising sector, providers of interactive TV ad technology have been quietly and steadily stepping up their association with traditional marketers — with promises of a better delivery on banner advertising’s original premise of one-to-one messaging.

San Francisco-based RespondTV, for one, recently signed H&R Block, Gillette, and Allstate, and re-signed American Airlines to a second interactive ad campaign.

The company also recently inked deals with Hewlett-Packard and supermarket marketing firm Catalina Marketing to expand its offerings to direct marketers, advertisers and programmers.

A recent technology deal with Hewlett-Packard enables users to print information — like recipes or how-to instructions — from a RespondTV-enabled ad or program. Through an arrangement with supermarket couponer Catalina Marketing, RespondTV ads can provide coupons and product discounts that work with viewers’ local grocery store loyalty cards.

“One of the most exciting features of this application is that it allows advertisers to build the brand beyond the discount offered, thereby extending the brand’s message,” said Eric Williams, vice president, research and development for St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Catalina. “This leads to an ever-increasing client base with long-term relationships which can be tracked over time.”

RespondTV competitor Wink Communications, likewise, also has been busy as of late. Earlier this week, the company renewed and expanded an agreement with E*Trade, which will enable viewers to view portfolio information and participate in polls.

The Alameda, Calif.-based firm also signed an agreement with infomercial firm Thane, Inc., to embed iTV functionality in commercials for such direct-response-marketed products as the “Ab-Doer”, “Play Guitar Overnight,” and “Playboy’s Secrets of Making Love.”

Wink also just re-signed its agreement with cable financial news channel CNBC to provide interactivity to the network’s television shows. Through the arrangement, CNBC also will support and promote Wink-enabled ads to clients.

Even not-for-profit, public service announcements are getting into the swing of things, with recent iTV-enhanced campaigns by the Ad Council encouraging viewers to vote, avoid drugs, and learn more about childhood asthma.

Yet as iTV advertising gains momentum, it’s becoming apparent that it’s competing with online advertising by providing the same sort of services — which could prove dangerous for online Web firms in this environment of advertisers’ careful spending.

For one thing, both iTV and Web advertising are becoming similarly propositioned. Like many rich media Web ad companies, iTV firms are promoting their services as a way for advertisers to enhance existing TV creative by adding interactivity.

And with targetable set-top boxes on the horizon (much to some privacy advocates’ chagrin) the iTV firms’ technology seems poised to deliver the same sorts of offerings promised by supporters of Web advertising — like real-time profiling and segmenting of users, based on iTV interaction and viewing habits.

“The technology gives us a cost-effective means to attract and acquire new customers, collect vital consumer research and perform a day-part media analysis,” said E*Trade senior advertising manager Bruce Perlstein. “With the addition of financial news outlets like Bloomberg and CNBC to Wink’s ad-enabled networks, we are now able to enhance the vast majority of our media buys.”

While iTV is clearly still in its infancy — Wink, for instance, can reach only about 3 million users through its arrangements with the major TV networks, cable operators and satellite providers — its supporters are convinced the medium will soon be delivering the same sort of services for advertisers as the Web.

“By offering a direct call to action on their advertisements, [advertisers can] establish an instant dialog with viewers and offer an extra level of convenience that cannot be offered through a conventional broadcast,” said Steve Carmassi, Wink’s vice president of advertising. ITV technology also gives advertisers “the ability to track when and where their ads have aired and be able to analyze the messages and creatives that are driving the most interaction and response.”

Ultimately, says RespondTV president Richard Fisher, iTV’s ability to combine direct marketing with television’s reach will make it the predominant marketing tool.

“Interactive advertisements … allow a one-to-one exchange between consumers and the brands they trust with an immediacy and convenience that other marketing tools cannot match,” said Fisher. “Whether for cause-related or product-related campaigns … iTV allows for this important value exchange.”

That’s not far from the thinking implicit in the Internet Advertising Bureau’s recent decision to open its doors to members from non-Web advertising and media companies. Along with a name change, the “Interactive Advertising Bureau” will incorporate not only the buyers and sellers of Web media, but all “interactive” media and advertising companies — a tip of the hat by one of the first online industry associations to iTV’s rising status.

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