Reports of TV’s Death Greatly Exaggerated, Part 1

The death of TV? Overhyped. TV isn’t dead. It’s not even dying. The truth is much easier and more eloquent: TV’s simply going digital. And when a medium goes digital, strange stuff happens. It goes all weird and different.

Yeah, it’s uncomfortable for some, but if I know one thing, it’s that digital TV will be better for everyone in the long run. Consumers will get what they want: great content subsidized by advertising, but without the irrelevant, intrusive annoyances. And marketers will have possibly the most powerful, engaging advertising medium that’s ever existed; the emotive power of moving images and sound combined with digital’s ability to create rich, immersive brand experiences that are interactive, at the consumer’s control, personalized, relevant, and accountable.

Whether you believe the trade press’s grim reports, are clinging to the old model with your last ounce of energy, or are incredibly excited by the future and the opportunity that stands before us, I have a road map of simple strategies to embrace the power TV’s digital incarnation will afford. I don’t pretend all these things are easy to turn on. In fact, some require seriously reevaluating how you think about certain things. But I hope to provide some simple tips for testing your way into a fully digital TV strategy.

Go Interactive

If you’re a digital agency or a marketer who’s significantly investing in online media, you’re already aware of this. It’s like expanding banner ads, but on TV. Simply by empowering consumers to interact with your ad, you increase the likelihood they’ll remember what you’re trying to tell them or take action. We’ve proven this with ads like the one we built for the launch of Levi’s Redwire jeans.

The nondigital world knows the power, too. It just has to try harder to enable interaction because the media aren’t inherently interactive. In fact, iTV has been around since the early days of television, it just took a lot more effort. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Winky Dink.

What does digital iTV look like? Pundits have said it’s a year away for the past 20 (30?) years. ITV has certainly gone through several cycles of hype and death, but all signs finally point toward it becoming reality.

The numbers are difficult to ignore:

  • Interactive cable households (spread across multiple MSOs): 8 million
  • TiVo households: 5 million
  • Dish Network interactive households: 12 million
  • Directv interactive households: 15 million

It’s not easy to make a single interactive buy across all these platforms due to lack of technology and format standardization (among other things). But even though the formats and technologies may be different, the basic mechanics are starting to get enough consistency that the interactive idea can be translated across each platform. Either way, in aggregate or individually, iTV is gaining enough ground that now is clearly the time to experiment so you’ll know what you’re doing when the scale really hits.

Basic iTV mechanics:

  • Request for information (RFI): A natural for direct marketers, this enables consumers to opt in to receive additional product details, enter a sweepstakes, get a coupon or product sample via mail, and so forth, with just a few clicks of the remote. It’s much easier and more immediate than calling a toll-free number or visiting a URL. Consumers with iTV-capable set-top boxes see an interactive overlay that appears on top of your spot that invites them to click to interact.
  • Polling: Using the same basic interactive overlay structure, marketers can conduct simple surveys or polls to better understand the consumer mindset, invite dialogue, and funnel that feedback into future spot production.
  • Telescoping: This allows the consumer to go from your :30 spot into a deeper, richer brand experience that could be longer format content or what amounts to a microsite type of experience offering the consumer several layers of interaction and choice. It could be several long-form content segments, interactive polls, coupon offers, or something similar.

Some of this advanced functionally takes people away from the programming they were watching, so it’s ideally suited to not only interactive households but also homes with a DVR, so programming content can be paused during interaction. Alternately, some platforms enable a picture-in-picture experience that allows consumers to continue to view programming while completing the interaction.

Going interactive with one more of these mechanics can be a powerful way enhance spots and improve overall effectiveness. But it’s only the first strategy we’ll discuss. My next column will continue the conversation.

Jeremy is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ. Be sure to check out parts two and three of this series!

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