Opinion: Perspective - Make way for the interactive television bonanza

By Claire Beale, claire.beale@haynet.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 27 May 2005 03:28PM

It is hard to believe that Chicken Tonight was once a cutting-edge brand; it launched the first ever interactive television ad. Or at least the first ever to claim to be the first ever.

That was more than five years ago now. Those were heady days. Of course, none of us had the technology to actually view the breakthrough, but Ogilvy & Mather made a neat video to give us a flavour of this brave new world.

How exciting it all was. Where once we'd had to make do simply with dancing chickens, now we could enter the "creative kitchen" and learn how to use the sauces when cooking (unscrew the top, pour it over the meat, put it in the oven ... how on earth did we cope before?). And, to reward those lucky viewers with interactive capability, there was the chance to apply for a Chicken Tonight money-off voucher.

Five years is a long time in advertising. Now there are armies of advertisers who can claim to have created interactive ads, and a whole industry of people with PowerPoint who reckon they're experts in the field. And there are definitely armies of viewers quite happy to go interactive when the mood takes them: more than seven million digital homes in the UK have some form of interactive television.

Yet play fast and loose with your little red button tonight and I reckon you'll struggle to find many improvements since the day the chicken went funky. In five years, interactive TV has failed to become a mainstream, vibrant creative medium.

There are plenty of examples of great interactive ads (Adidas and Volkswagen to name two) but many, many more that are unengaging, unentertaining and unnecessary. Which pretty much reflects the general span of regular TV ads, I guess. Except that with the added production costs and 20 per cent-plus premium on airtime costs incurred by interactive advertisers, getting it right is surely even more crucial.

This week's Interactive Advertising Show at Earls Court seemed to suggest that the problem lies not so much with the television advertisers but rather with their agencies. A handsome panel of clients told delegates about their interactive TV experiences. All had the money and the willingness to invest in this new medium, but many felt that their agency partners were way behind the game. All too often, interactive TV was seen as a grubby add-on that got in the way of pure advertising creativity.

Take a look in this week's Campaign supplement with Sky Interactive for growing evidence to the contrary. But I've no doubt that this week's D&AD Awards will also provide a fillip for interactive advertising. The jury has awarded two silvers in the new interactive TV category, putting interactive creativity truly on the map and underlining the fact that here is a new space - not television, not the web, but an entirely new advertising format - waiting to be claimed by the ad industry's best creative talents.

With advertisers willing to put the money in, D&AD handing out creative honours and media agencies and media owners enjoying the benefits of handling those 20 per cent airtime premiums, what's stopping everyone?

Painful as it must have been for the management, this week's strikes at the BBC were surely fortuitously timed.

Life without The Today Programme and Newsnight was almost unbearable, even for a day. This same week, the chairman of the BBC, Michael Grade, made his official response to the Government's Green Paper on the BBC.

In it, he outlined the impact that digital TV and a reduction in the licence fee could have on the BBC's audiences and its ability to invest in programmes.

Now we have had a taster of what it might be like without some of the (less mainstream) cornerstones of the BBC's output, Grade might find he has more support for his cause than ever.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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