The promise of interactive advertising is almost too good to be
true. Interactive advertisers, we’re told, will be able to build
super-accurate, information-rich profiles of their customer base and,
armed with this ammunition, offer them products and services they can’t
Viewers will be able to zap-request information or brochures, enter
competitions, arrange for a salesperson to call, or buy items over the
That may be good news for punters, but it’s even better news for
manufacturers and service providers. It means that traditional
prime-time TV advertising will, finally, be recognised as the
blunderbuss that it is, wildly spewing out shot in the hope of hitting a
few relevant consumers. In the interactive future, agencies won’t have
to be nearly so profligate to hit their targets, and clients may start
to feel that they’re getting value for money.
But there are many issues that need to be resolved before interactive
television becomes a real threat. The rate of take-up of digital
television services and the immense cultural shift of having a new,
proactive relationship with the box in the corner of the front room are
the first hurdles that have to be overcome. It’s just a matter of time,
media watchers say. The enthusiasm with which advertisers such as
Domino’s Pizza, WH Smith, Carphone Warehouse and Iceland have embraced
Open, the UK’s first interactive TV channel, would seem to bear this
But there’s another, seemingly less surmountable challenge facing the
industry - the problem of rival operating systems. All three of the
major digital players - BSkyB, ONdigital and the various cable operators
- have different software systems in place for interactivity. Open TV
works through Sky’s set-top boxes in this country, a system also used by
Canal Plus in France and a handful of US operators; ONDigital uses
MHEG-5 technology for its menu screens; while the more secretive cable
companies are believed to use technology based on super-powered HTML,
the most widely used internet technology. When BT enters the fray with
its broadband technology, there will be yet another alternative.
In practice, this means that if advertisers want to place icons, further
information or call-through facilities on their interactive
advertisements, they have to go through the tedious, costly process of
creating different executions for each distribution channel.
’Transcoding jobs is boring and expensive,’ warns Anthony Lillie,
managing director of the new media and digital production consultany,
Magic Lantern. ’Advertisers will tend to look at which option reaches
the right demographics for them.’
’We see it as an opportunity,’ says Betherez Erez, vice-president of
NDS, which has been developing interactive applications for its News
Corporation parent. ’But I can see that it might be a problem for
content providers, including advertisers,’ she says. In response to
industry anxieties, NDS has been working on interactive solutions that
will be able to work across several platforms, which they could supply
to interested parties, as well as tools that would allow clients to
modify ads themselves. ’Until the industry shakes down, there are no
easy answers,’ Erez admits.
As for content and features, advertisers will have to mix and match the
rival platforms’ capabilities carefully, to avoid having to create
separate ads for each. ’Some features are comparable and compatible,
others are not,’ Erez says. ’Each offers different interactive features,
so you have to weigh up your options.’ Even so, she’s confident that
this situation won’t last for too long. ’In this industry, standards
develop quickly - at present there’s a technological vacuum and a need
to fill it,’ she says.
’We’ll find these are interim technologies,’ Lillie says. ’Further down
the line there won’t be these kinds of compatibility problems. Having
said that, there’s plenty of money to be made from interim technologies.
If you think about it, the vinyl LP was an interim technology.’
INTERACTIVE ADVERTISING AND THE INTERNET
Interactive advertising and the internet have a confused and slightly
contradictory relationship. Open TV’s offering is basically a
pared-down, simplified version of the kind of interactivity that web
users are already familiar with, and forthcoming interactive channels
are expected to follow suit. Most industry watchers believe clients will
use the medium to exploit e-commerce and home shopping opportunities as
well as strategic branding.
The main difference is that interactive television will be meat and
drink to C2D consumers; in other words, serious catalogue shoppers.
The similarity doesn’t stop there. Bruce Lynn, the network solutions
group manager of Microsoft Web TV, is convinced that as far as
production technology is concerned, ’web standards are the way forward.
Anything deviating from that is going down a cul-de-sac.’ He adds that
there has already been so much investment in HTML and XML, the web
programming languages, that it would be a travesty not to consolidate on
that. ’It involves a far lower marginal cost than starting from
scratch,’ he reasons.
Both Sky and ONdigital set-top boxes contain modems, which will allow
customers e-mail facilities, so technically there would be no problem
logging on to the internet. While this may be seen as a valuable extra
to viewers, to broadcasters and advertisers it’s a potential
Imagine you’re watching the first ad in the break - a car
You want to know more, so you click on an active website address on the
screen and you’re off surfing. The channel has lost a viewer, as have
subsequent advertisers in the break. How the internet and interactive TV
resolve this issue remains to be seen.