TV Tunes In to Interactive

When Mitch Oscar defected from Carat to Havas’ MPG, where he’s been installed for a few months as EVP of televisual applications, he took a very important Rolodex with him — his personal who’s who in digital video and television. This is no static database. Oscar has parlayed his innumerable friends and contacts in the industry into something he calls the Collaborative Alliance. If you’re lucky enough to be a Friend of Mitch, you get invited to his quarterly lunches in New York, featuring, onstage and off-, the movers and shakers in digital television and convergence.

A couple hundred of us met and mingled this week in New York. Over sandwiches and gossip, a few select guests presented on mostly measurement-related issues.

Cross-Media Behavior

People who watch the most ESPN on TV are ESPN’s most active users across all digital channels. That was the verdict handed down by ESPN’s Artie Bulgrin, SVP research and analytics, with Glenn Enoch, VP integrated media research. The pair has been researching cross-media behavior and measurement solutions for three screens “and beyond.”

The findings are generally upbeat. Consumers are spending more time with ESPN than they were five years ago. But, they caution, it’s not just a numbers game. A user isn’t interchangeable with usage, they were careful to point out. As an example, they cited differences between male and female audiences (women account for 47 percent of the sport channel’s audience).

Overall, 58 percent of the total audience is simultaneously active on the Web and watching ESPN on TV, but that only accounts for 31 percent of all ESPN’s Web usage. Bear in mind that being online doesn’t mean being on A mere 0.02 percent of the audience is watching the channel and surfing the ESPN Web site simultaneously.

Nonetheless, the duo claims a heavy user is a heavy user, across the board. Those who watch the most TV (and the heaviest viewers are watching in excess of nine hours per day!) are their most active online users as well. In other words, the research indicates more of one channel doesn’t necessarily mean less of another.

Digital Isn’t Necessarily Measurable

ABC’s Patrick McGovern, SVP of sales and strategic planning and digital media, showed up to talk video-on-demand (VOD). Currently, it’s not possible to measure the ads inserted into VOD programming. Instead, the whole package is measured as one big block of content, ads and all. Moreover, it’s still technically impossible (as with pod- and videocasting) to dynamically insert ads into VOD content. That pretty much puts the kibosh on targeting at any level of sophistication and means fresh content blocks with new ads have to be shot out to distribution partners every couple of days during the 30 days or so that VOD programming is available for viewers.

But wait, it gets even worse. Unsurprisingly, the networks don’t want viewers fast-forwarding through ads on their VOD streams. So they disable that function. Disabling fast-forward, however, means disabling pause and rewind, too. Not only does measurement get the heave-ho, then, so does user experience. Currently, ABC streams can be fast-forwarded on Comcast under a deal that runs at least through the current broadcast season.*

McGovern’s message? We need technical support (particularly from the highly anticipated Project Canoe).

Web/TV Convergence

Youth-market-oriented Current TV is a station that consciously strives to look like the Web and has been experimenting with integrating Internet applications into its programming (70 percent of its young audience is simultaneously on a laptop and viewing the TV channel). VP of research Theresa Falcone presented some of the initiatives Current took around the presidential elections. So popular was an integration of Twitter into the presidential debate coverage that, she claims, “current” was the top term on Twitter during those events — more popular even than “Obama” or “McCain.”

To further that success, the station re-partnered with Twitter during the election, as well as with social media site Digg. Microsoft extended its sponsorship on less than two weeks’ notice. While these online components are measurable, Falcone throws up her hands when it comes to actually measuring the station’s TV reach. Its total household audience numbers vary from 42 million to 64 million, depending on the measurement service.

And you thought Web stats were hard.

As a recovering television executive, I’m heartened to watch broadcasters drink the digital Kool-Aid — which has only begun to happen in earnest over the past couple of years or so. And it’s not with a little amusement that one watches broadcasters grapple with the same issues interactive has been facing for a decade or so.

Welcome to the club, TV!

Meet Rebecca at Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12 at the Chicago Hilton. The only major search marketing conference and expo in the Midwest will be packed with 60-plus sessions, multiple keynotes and Orion Strategy sessions, exhibitors, networking events, and more.

* An earlier version of this column gave the incorrect date for the deal’s expiration. ^

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.