ITV’s Commercials

I started this year examining the platforms we’ll use in the future to nurture customer relationships. My last column further explored how different channels can create more loyal customers. Based on your responses (sorry I haven’t replied to everyone yet), I’ll continue down the path of multichannel user experience and new channels on the scene.

For several years, the promise of interactive television (ITV) has made technologists’ mouths water and pundits’ pens poise. Skeptics are waiting for another nightmare of incompatibility and protocol posturing. Major players are trying to keep proprietary technologies away from an open-source ideal.

I hadn’t paid much attention to ITV until I got on the high-definition (HD) bandwagon last month. Now, I’m clamoring for more ways to sit in from of my set. There are only a handful of HD television stations at the moment. The only two that seem to be 24/7 are Discovery and PBS (I can tell you anything you want to know about John Singer Sargent, dust particles on Mars, or DNA). One PBS special I saw showed an ITV demo with Julia Child; an options menu offered the exact ingredients for the recipe Child was cooking, and even appropriate wines to serve with the dish.

Since the ’80s, we’ve heard stories of ITV. Is it really an interesting channel to add to your company’s marketing strategy? Maybe. TiVo demonstrates the idea of interactive TV, and of treating TV more like a computer or an appliance, is catching on quickly. HDTV will be required as of 2006. Microsoft (and its competitors) keep releasing “home media centers” that converge all current entertainment media (music, video, Internet, radio, etc.) into one box.

One can easily imagine buying the outfit Monica’s wearing in a episode of “Friends” by clicking a button. Or, in the most personalized example, an ad could appear and show you new products in your favorite categories, with the option to purchase from your remote control. Online shopping networks have existed for 20 years and are going strong, proving instant TV purchases are an extremely profitable reality.

ITV’s multichannel aspect is most intriguing. Early examples of the possibilities are found in the current TiVo platform. TiVo shows commercials, then emails you more information if you allow them to send your coordinates to the advertiser. So TiVo becomes not just a hardware supplier but also an information broker and a list manager.

Though a cable provider as a list manager may seems odd, it will likely happen as ITV commercials allow a click of one button for more information. All of a sudden, Time Warner Cable and others will be go-betweens for you and the advertisers.

Or will box manufacturers — or the boxes themselves — carry your personal information? Questions like these delay the process. The devil is in the personal details.

Once ITV takes off, we’ll have a new medium to design for and new constraints to consider. Interactivity must be so simple anyone can use it, and fast (the TV user demographic is so much wider than the browser users’). Commercials will hopefully continue the trend of getting shorter. Spots can even act as teasers, enticing audiences to press a button to be emailed more information.

This design platform will help design considerations in other platforms as well. If new conventions are created for ITV that allow simple and quick interactions, they’ll make their way to the Internet and ATM kiosks. Everyone wants a streamlined user experience, regardless of the channel.

How will TV ads be priced in the future? Will they still be time-slot based, or can they be priced differently, based on interaction level, personalization (therefore, how many people see them), and performance?

Once commercials become interactive, they’ll be trackable. Though most TV spots are difficult to accurately track, ITV ads have the potential to provide real return on investment (ROI) data. This, in turn, could affect time-slots prices.

The stars are aligned for ITV. The world is going digital. The notion of the “central media server” is slowing becoming a reality. The desktop is quickly converging with the TV. Once the technical and political issues are solved, we marketers can add a new and exciting channel to multichannel marketing and engage users in their natural environment: sitting on the couch and watching TV.

Until next time…


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