iTV Report: A new leap of faith

With the spread of PVR technology and the empowerment of viewers, it is important for agencies to put clients in a position to take advantage.

What can digital media offer me, particularly interactive TV? A client once asked me. This client had asked this question to many of his other agencies and digital specialists and had received the same stock answers in reply. "Effective lead-generation ... "... cost-effective impulse response mechanism", "... great way to continue the brand experience ...", "... effective measurement ..." etc. He hardly ever looked impressed.

I must admit I have, in the past, found myself talking this language.

But I now know that back then we had all missed the point ... Well, most of us.

Digital media, particularly iTV, is all about value innovation and creativity - taking the leap from the low-margin dogfight that is impulse-response campaigns and ineffective mini-DALs to a market space that recognises what is on the horizon. A market space where the distinction between TV, PC and PVR becomes less clear, where measurement allows real accountability, and linear viewing of TV changes so much that the term "primetime viewing" becomes less relevant.

This is the market space where we need to take iTV and we need to take our clients with us. If we don't, then we are still talking about the same issues of five years ago when iTV first arrived. Issues such as the lack of creativity, how content is the key driver, why the iTV element is not properly considered at conception, how the medium's slowness and lack of functionality are holding us back and are the reasons we must provide clients value through innovation and creativity.

To gain entry into this market we need to change our whole thinking of what iTV is. Once we change how we think about the medium, we create the market that we always wanted for us and our clients. A market that is ripe for growth and a medium that gives our clients a real alternative, or works with the traditional TV ad, but for a fraction of the production cost.

If we can talk to our clients about emerging technologies that enhance the iTV experience for the viewer, we can demonstrate that these technologies change the whole way the viewers interact and engage. If the viewer is skipping your client's ads, we need to demonstrate how we can re-engage with them through approaches such as programme-guide sponsorship and sponsored services. Demonstrate that the technology is not a threat but presents an opportunity.

The emergence of video-on-demand as a genuine contender for the new killer application is something we need to discuss and plan ahead for. We need to be creating new advertising models and couple that with an expertise in the platform. The industry needs to provide a uniform direction for this model to work. Agencies need to openly experiment with this technology and involve the clients in this process. Clients see us as a gauge of technology development within the iTV landscape. This type of client/agency relationship would have been rare five years ago but now they see us as a partner. If all agencies adopted this approach, then the leap to an innovative and value-led iTV landscape would be a much smaller one.

Add to this the claim that iTV has been led too much by technology is correct. We still need to understand its capabilities, but we must see beyond the granular platform, software and hardware challenges that cloud the real issues. We need to provide a vision and clearly identify the value to our clients. I don't believe that we have this yet, at least not one shared by all sections of the industry. But how we approach this challenge should be common among all sections of the industry. By really understanding the technology and its capabilities, then we can master all platforms, from Sky+ to PVR. By understanding our users' needs and closely observing how the industry is developing, we can prepare for the TV and PC technology merging.

Essentially, the iTV platform is only the test bed for things to come.

With the spread of PVR and the empowerment of the discerning viewer, it is important that our clients understand the technology in order to make best use of it and create a vision that is shared among the industry.

However, all of these points would be entirely academic without valid measurement and accountability. And with the emergence of the Sky View measurement panel, we have the platform to allow us to make the leap into the value innovation market space.

The largest panel of its kind, it provides single-source purchasing and viewing data, as well as data on non-linear and time-shifted viewing, thus giving insight into how audiences really use iTV technologies. Of course, the information received may show that current iTV usage is low, but such results should not be feared. It should provide us with the information the industry needs to improve the platform.

Until we have this information, then it is unknown if our approach is working. And, whatever the results, it should encourage agencies and iTV suppliers to work closer with clients to demonstrate understanding of the technology and the benefits it could bring. By taking a leap in our thinking and not being held back by the present challenges of the platform, we can develop our vision for a medium which will bring real value and a real alternative to our clients and prove its value with a level of measurement not yet seen. Then and only then do I believe our clients will be impressed.

Let's make sure we make this leap.

- Jim Mullen is the head of interactive at Arc Worldwide, UK.