Zip TV won't make a silk purse out of interactive TV ads

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 01 July 2004 08:00AM

It's usually easy to spot a turkey. England in penalty shoot-outs, Oasis at Glastonbury, Ross Kemp in soldier dramas. No confusion in my mind, they're all painfully bad, writes Ian Darby.

But life isn't always as cut and dried. Take interactive TV advertising as an obvious example of where the lines between the great and the grisly can blur.

Brilliant idea -- an application that can potentially immerse the viewer in extra content -- but frequently marred by shoddy execution. Pushing the red Sky Digital button can result in minutes of delay before you're back watching your favourite show with little but a mailed-out car brochure as reward.

For every Volvo "The Mystery of Dalaro" (directed by Spike Jonze), there are a dozen unimaginative executions that seem to use interactivity as a badge of innovation to mask the absence of a decent creative idea.

So it seems clear that interactive advertising has far to go. The same could be said of Zip TV, the "virtual" TV channel supported by 11 top advertisers including Procter & Gamble, COI Communications and Unilever.

Launched in 2002 by the former OMDtvi director Andrew Howells, Zip last week finally secured funding for the roll-out of its TV channel service from the investment company Morgan Investments.

The disappointing thing about Zip is that it's not a real digital channel showing interactive advertising. It just means that if viewers of interactive ads by the 11 member advertisers press the red button, they will enter an area of content and services developed by Zip rather than by one of the broadcasters. And, so far, Zip has only signed a deal with Channel 4 -- agreements with Sky and ITV have yet to be reached, though Zip will look to thrash out agreements over the coming weeks.

Initially at least, Zip will probably add little to the interactive TV landscape, offering viewers the traditional fare of 30-second ads with a red-button click-through option. But Howells argues that there is future potential: "The investment raises the potential of having a 24/7 presence with a listing on the EPG. We're not naive enough to think that viewers will say 'Whoopee! There's an advertising channel, let's go there' but, if advertisers put the channel number on promotional packaging, it could drive viewing to the channel."

Howells says Zip will work with member advertisers on developments that go beyond the 30-second interactive ad, focusing particularly on developing ideas to work around the problem of ad avoidance.

Zip's consortium sounds impressive but may be held back by opposition from media owners frightened that it is encroaching on their territory. Turkey or triumph, it's hard to predict but the lengthy launch process and problems with broadcasters point toward the former.

If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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