MEDIA FORUM: How will the arrival of Open ... change British TV? British Interactive Broadcasting unveiled its consumer branding last week - the company’s interactive services technology is now called Open ... It also announced deals with an impre

By ALASDAIR REID, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 20 November 1998 12:00AM

Open ... is, of course, called Open ... because no-one’s entirely sure how it will work or what the implications are. As in, let’s keep an Open ... mind about this. And what on earth are those four dots (mandatory, apparently) all about? According to the design consultancy, Wolff Olins, they help to convey the openness of a trusted friend and the comfort of an open road on a clear day (no, honestly), not someone’s voice trailing off as their eyes glaze over ...

Open ... is, of course, called Open ... because no-one’s entirely

sure how it will work or what the implications are. As in, let’s keep an

Open ... mind about this. And what on earth are those four dots

(mandatory, apparently) all about? According to the design consultancy,

Wolff Olins, they help to convey the openness of a trusted friend and

the comfort of an open road on a clear day (no, honestly), not someone’s

voice trailing off as their eyes glaze over ...



Open ..., which launched to great fanfare last week, is effectively two

things (or will be when the decoder boxes become widely available next

spring). Its core function is to provide e-commerce services piggybacked

on SkyDigital transmissions. In other words, a kind of super deluxe

teletext service for the new millennium where a core group of pioneer

companies - called ’content providers’ - provide home shopping and

banking, games and educational services for Sky subscribers. Retailers

already signed up include Great Universal Stores, Iceland, Woolworth and

Midland Bank.



The second and arguably more interesting function - certainly in the

long run - is its ability to offer interactive commercials within breaks

on channels right across the whole SkyDigital platform. Click on the

whirling icon and you’re hyper-linked to an advertiser domain - a page

of ’for more information’ hyper text at the simplest level and at the

most complex, a multi-layered marketing zone including all the stuff

you’d expect on a website. And more. Games, competitions, technical

data, response mechanisms, infomercials and promo films. The complete

works.



Pioneer advertisers who’ve already committed to interactive spot

advertising include Coca-Cola, Unilever and Ford. What do they have to

gain from committing this early to an untried medium? Did they have

their arms twisted by dangerously trendy media agencies? Just who has

the initiative in the interactive digital TV market?



Many people believe that traditional advertising sectors - both creative

and media - are dangerously out of touch here. But according to Graham

Appleby, head of client sales at Sky Television, that’s extremely

unfair.



’Advertisers and media agencies are equally important in driving this,’

he argues. ’The key issue is whether they are prepared to buy into the

power of innovation and see advertising as part of the bigger

picture.



In terms of the creative side, we have been inviting creatives out to

Osterley to see how it all works. But in terms of getting the creative

approach absolutely right, I expect media planners will have a major

role in briefing creative departments.’



Where will the cash come from? Will this further dilute traditional TV

budgets? Appleby doesn’t think it’s that simple. ’Open ... is further

proof that TV can actually be both an above- and below-the-line medium

so I think we’ll see some of the money coming from promotional budgets

and some coming from traditional television brand advertising budgets,’

he states.



David Cuff, the broadcast director of Initiative Media, seconds

that.



He comments: ’Much of the interest up to now has been on the supply

side; the increase in the number of channels and choice that digital

brings.



But our view has always been that this was based on a mistaken view that

there would be more viewer demand for general entertainment TV. We’ve

always believed that the real growth in demand will be for information

and transactional TV.



’The convenience of home shopping appeals to a more modern mindset and,

rather than advertisers telling people things, they now have a chance to

ask them things. People like being asked. You can still hit people with

the unsolicited 30-second spot but you can now go into areas where

advertisers can develop relationships with people.’



Cuff adds that convincing clients isn’t difficult - they’re all looking

for more effective marketing strategies. ’No-one is going to turn down

the opportunity to back their message up with more in-depth

communication,’ he insists.



Many media specialists argue they have a tradition of early involvement

in new opportunities. Mick Perry, vice-chairman of Universal McCann,

states: ’It obviously varies from client to client.



There are great advantages in getting involved with new developments

right at the beginning. It gives you the opportunity to make some

mistakes and learn without it costing too much. And for some people,

this isn’t exactly new anyway, there have been many consumer trials in

this area. Things like Open ... are merely moving it on to a new level.

You get criticism from people who question whether media planners and

buyers are innovative enough, but they tend to come from small companies

who are trying to make a point at the expense of larger rivals.’



But some of those smaller players are going well beyond criticism - they

want the business. Paul Longhurst, founder of the strategic services and

interactive media agency, Quantum, offers a rather apocalyptic vision

for those in mainstream ad agencies. He states: ’The area of content

provision for digital TV is bypassing agencies - most don’t even define

it as advertising.



I’m talking about content provision in terms of home shopping-type

services as well as the back-up for interactive spot advertising. We’re

seeing the evolution of a power relationship between the broadcaster and

the client where traditional agencies - creative and media - are not

centrally involved. Agencies don’t have expertise in creating material

for the digital domain, nor do they understand the technologies involved

in clicking through to that domain from your spot ad.’



If true, this has massive implications for the structure of the

industry.



But there are other issues to be confronted. ’Some questions haven’t

been asked properly yet and many haven’t been answered,’ Longhurst says.

However, one thing is sure: ’Creative departments can’t sustain the

level of expertise needed to work in this environment and clients will

have to go outside for relevant skills. Media companies will be best

placed to manage that process.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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