Simulcast

Dick Cheney blew it in Tuesday night’s debate. Yet his spectacularly bungled call to action, asking viewers to visit factcheck.com (rather than factcheck.org), which resulted in millions of TV viewers landing on George Soros’ anti-Bush Web site, should impel advertisers to check their own facts — facts that have been out there a long time.

People are online while they watch TV.

Over two years ago, comScore Media Metrix reported half of all Internet users have a TV and computer in the same room, and most use them simultaneously. That was then. Now, with over half of all U.S. Web users on home broadband, coupled with very rapid adoption of home Wi-Fi networks, channel and Web surfing are becoming inextricably entwined.

No fewer than 31 percent of Web users were online during this year’s Oscar telecast. Super Bowl advertiser sites saw dizzying traffic spikes; in Cialis.com’s case, nearly 1,900 percent above average.

Sal Taylor, Yahoo Branded Entertainment senior product manager, told me “ice cream” was the third most-searched term on Yahoo the evening of a call to action on “The Apprentice.” The Ciao, Bella-brand flavor in question sold out nationally. “My team and I didn’t even get any,” Taylor only half laments.

More Wi-Fi, more broadband, and the introduction of gizmos that wed the TV to the PC, like MSN’s now-shipping TV 2 Internet & Media Player, should have TV advertisers and broadcasters seriously reconsidering strategies they should have reconsidered a couple years ago. If demographic and tech trends don’t push their thinking, maybe Dick Cheney will.

Examples of well-thought-out, successful integration do exist. Discovery effectively teamed with sponsor AT&T a couple years ago to drive dinosaur show viewers online during commercial breaks to learn more about the big lizards (and the sponsor’s products). American Express teamed with Jerry Seinfeld and Superman to create a truly integrated, multipart promotion. And Procter & Gamble recently tied a new Crest toothpaste product into “The Apprentice,” driving viewers to a Web site in the process.

The list goes on, but it isn’t long enough. At this stage of the game, it’s hard to understand why every television advertisement doesn’t have a Web component. The advertisers have sites. So do the stations. Portals such as Yahoo and MSN are willing to work with advertisers to come up with custom solutions.

So what’s the problem?

Complacency, for one thing. I recently spoke with a senior VP at a major international cable network. Things don’t happen quickly there, he explained, and the Web is still viewed as secondary to the company’s core business: television. Yet he was quick to point out his viewership is eroding, as it is across television in general. Though the network doesn’t currently view the Web as a revenue stream, he confessed an uneasy feeling online could be the source of revenue for that network in the not-too-distant future.

You’d think if anyone would get this, it would be the cable stations. Programming tailored to more-defined demographics (compared to Big Four TV fare) creates opportunities for Web tie-ins you’d think advertisers would find very attractive. But stumbling blocks and silos litter the path to integration: ad sales staff split between traditional and interactive; marketing and production schisms; agencies lacking the vision or resources to serve interactive strategies with broadcast on the media or creative sides; and clients who don’t demand enough bang for their advertising bucks.

There are notable exceptions. ABC’s Enhanced TV is built for live TV/Web convergence. The Game Show Network created play-along-at-home. ESPN.com has a number of real-time features (“Follow every game on your desktop”).

Comedy Central’s approach is particularly interesting. With most of its programming targeted at the rapidly eroding (and highly valued) young male demographic, the philosophy seems to be, “If they won’t watch it on TV, put it online.” On the ad side, the results are particularly attention-grabbing. “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” is one of the hottest properties on the air, yet recent on-air sponsors tend toward the shockingly lowbrow (male enhancements and hangover remedies, for crying out loud). Recent online sponsors include State Farm Insurance, Mountain Dew, and Columbia Tristar for the “Fahrenheit 9/11” DVD.

More prestige, more targeting. In comedycentral.com’s case, the question flips: Why aren’t the online advertisers sponsoring the broadcast? Do they know something we don’t about their target — and its media preferences?

Yahoo’s “The Apprentice” microsite is one of the most recent, and interesting, TV tie-ins. The portal is working closely with both the NBC and the production company.

“What we try to do is offer an extended experience online,” says Taylor of the site’s goal, “to drive tune-ins to NBC and to extend the broadcast.” The show, she explains, has a limited timeframe. “We can take the footage and show the full six minutes of the boardroom scene.”

Preceding each and every one of the online video segments I watched this week was the same 30-second spot in which Alice Cooper shills for Staples. Frequency capping isn’t an issue, apparently. But, hey. On Yahoo, neither is TiVo.

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