Confessions of an internet adman

The lines between 'old' and new media are about to become blurred, with TV primed to sit at the heart of our digital future

I love TV. There, I said it. It actually feels rather good, particularly after 15 years persuading clients not to focus on TV.

I can already hear the cries of "Judas" among my fellow digital folk. However, before throwing me into the IAB dungeon, let me explain: in the next few years, TV will be one of the most dynamic and exciting areas of the digital business. Bear with me.

First, TV's demise has been greatly exaggerated. According to recent Forrester research, European teenagers (of all people) watch more TV than any other media channel - 10.3 hours a week. UK Barb data indicates that we are watching one more hour of TV every week than ten years before. What happened? Fragmentation has helped via more and better programming options. Even the dreaded PVR seems to increase TV viewing consumption: 18 per cent, according to Sky.

Perhaps more importantly, media consumption is no longer a zero-sum situation. A few years ago, you had to make a physical choice between watching TV and surfing the internet; your clunky-old PC was often in another room. The ubiquity of wireless broadband and mobile now enables punters to watch TV and surf the internet at the same time. Thus a new love affair has been formed between old and new media: TV programmes are the number-one discussed topic on Facebook. So TV viewing is alive and well, but what about TV advertising? Well, that's another story. While PVRs increase TV programme consumption, they also lead 91 per cent of US moms with the technology to skip the ads. TV also has some stiff competition from that pervasive new kid on the block, the internet. So the TV industry has wisely embraced an old proverb: if you can't beat them, join them.

Which brings me to the second reason I love TV: the old enemy is embracing the internet itself. TV broadcasters, manufacturers and a gazillion other players are scrambling to bring all of the advantages of today's internet to the TV of tomorrow in the hopes of reversing the shift of adspend back to TV. In the UK, Sky and Canvas are building momentum behind their respective systems. In the US, several cable companies have banded together under Project Canoe to roll out an addressable digital TV platform. Best Buy is pimping LG internet-enabled TVs and generating new revenue streams by directing customers to video-on-demand sites. WPP, Microsoft, Apple and Google are all investing in various hardware, software and partnership models.

Will this future TV internet experience be the same as today's PC internet? Yes and no.

TV will no longer be burdened with remote controls. Nintendo's Wii is radically adapting how a generation of kids interact with the TV screen. Don't believe me? Just search "Project Natal" on Bing for a preview of the new Xbox and how motion sensors and voice recognition will fundamentally change the TV experience.

TV will be intelligent. Your TV experience will be personalised and customised with programmes, applications, branded content and old-fashioned advertising all based on your personal preferences. Think Sky+ mashed with My Yahoo! powered by Amazon's recommendation capability.

TV will be on-demand. All audio-visual content (TV, film etc) will be available for your instant-viewing pleasure. You'll just need to search for it, like on YouTube. Linear viewing will still exist, particularly for live events, but will no longer dominate as it does today. Some on-demand content will be exclusively sponsored by brands, or even developed by brands that are no longer constrained by old linear programme formats and models.

TV will be addressable. Brands will precision target specific households based on demographics and behaviour across digital devices; consumers will see a new TV ad based on what they've searched for on their PC or an app they used on their mobile phone. Like online banners, the much-maligned 30-second "TV spot" will survive, albeit more targeted and less fundamental to the creative experience.

TV will be e-commerce-enabled. Your household data and credit-card will be stored in your set-top box, thus enabling you to simply buy, sample or act on whatever product ad you see during your TV viewing experience. Content will be tagged so that, via your TV, you can immediately add all of the recipe ingredients from the latest Jamie Oliver show to your weekly Tesco shopping basket.

TV will be social. Programmes will be shared and recommended among friends while conversations about politics and sport, previously confined to the PC or the pub, will be accessible, right there on the screen.

TV may be free. Imagine a credit-card company paying a premium member's annual cable bill in return for exclusive advertising rights to that household.

Will it be smooth sailing? Not really. Malthusian industry cynics will say it will never happen. Kool-Aid-fuelled digital shysters will lead clients into doomed, widely optimistic excursions. Walled-garden strategies will fail. Start-ups will earn headlines one day and go bankrupt the next. Clients will test, retreat and test again. Agencies will struggle to manage more real-time digital data. Creative egos will be bruised by social networks filtering out their precious ads. Just like the old-new media of the PC internet, the new-old media of the TV internet will surely surprise, frustrate and delight us in many ways. Welcome to the next stage of the digital revolution, including our new friend, TV.


- The demise of TV has been greatly exaggerated

- We are actually watching more TV than ever before

- In fact, TV is about to go through a radical digital transformation, which will forever change the way that consumers and advertisers use it.

- Norm Johnston is the global digital leader at Mindshare

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