Will TV Advertising Change in Internet Time?

TiVo has changed my life.

I’m watching more TV than ever before. I’ve become a total addict. I’m not saying that this is a good thing, nor that I’d recommend increased TV consumption. But in the long run, more people watching more TV is a good thing for a lot of business people, especially us advertising folk.

I’ve written before in this space about the revolution underway in the way people watch television, driven by the increasing popularity of personal video recorders (PVRs). We’ve talked about how reports indicate that a huge percentage (88 percent) of PVR users fast-forward through TV spots and how that simple fact is going to force a major shift in TV advertising.

The thing that I (and most other people preaching from the iTV soapbox) haven’t talked about is how quickly it’s going to happen. Nobody really knows what the timeline looks like. The evolution of an industry such as iTV is always very difficult to predict, and I won’t dare to venture a guess.

But I’ll tell you this: The change in TV advertising has already begun. I have seen it happen, during normal TV viewing, before my very eyes.

If 88 percent of viewers are going to fast-forward through your commercial, you need to do something about it. There are a lot of theories on counteracting it. The most logical changes are as follows:

  • Disable the fast-forward button during commercials. Those of us already addicted to the practice won’t like it at all, and some hacker somewhere is going to find a way to re-enable it.
  • Place some kind of graphic ad on the screen during the fast-forward. As the user fast-forwards through, say, a Coca-Cola ad, a Coke logo might appear on the screen.
  • Create some kind of interactive overlay that replaces or enhances existing TV spots. I’m not just talking about a logo or banner-style placement, but something with a more meaningful level of interactivity.
  • Make your TV spots so engaging and entertaining that folks don’t want to fast-forward through them — a daunting challenge, to say the least.
  • Trick folks into coming out of the fast-forward mode, perhaps by using characters from the show they are watching.
  • Return to the old days of TV advertising, when product placement was king.

It’s this last concept that I’ve already seen taking shape. One of the most obvious examples of product placement occurred recently on NBC’s “Frasier.” Bill Gates showed up unexpectedly for an appearance on Frasier’s call-in talk show. Frasier was interviewing Gates, but the interview quickly sidetracked into a caller Q&A session about Microsoft products. One question in particular stood out — it afforded ol’ Bill an opportunity to hype the ease of use of the new Windows XP operating system. The timing was perfect. XP had just been released a few weeks earlier.

Another example: Ellen DeGeneres spent at least two full minutes on her new show describing to her mother exactly what TiVo is and does. Ellen, clearly an addict, was trying to sell her mother on the device. What great placement for TiVo!

It doesn’t surprise me that NBC was one of the first networks to experiment. The Peacock has a substantial investment in TiVo and was perhaps the first network to use TiVo’s pop-up enhancement functionality. This basically allows a user viewing a show’s preview to hit a single button to set it up for recording.

I’m not claiming that the introduction of PVRs is entirely responsible for a sudden increase in product placement. I think it’s a natural progression, part of a cycle that has been going on for over 60 years.

Content integration and sponsored content models have become very popular and effective in the online world. It’s natural that we’re also seeing more experimentation in that direction (again) offline. Especially when it comes to iTV placements.

We’re most likely still a very long way from having the necessary infrastructure and set of standards to make everyday iTV advertising a reality, but it’s amazing how quickly we’ve progressed is in place, the iTV world is likely to move as quickly or (God forbid) even faster than the online world.

I have only one comment on that: Yikes!

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