Big Brother is back and this time it means business. The
contestants are stupider, trashier, more tabloid-friendly and the
exposes (like the revelations of a contestant's drug habit last week)
have been prepared in easily digestible press-kit format. The in-house
decor is strikingly different - new duvet covers and daringly modern
shelving in the kitchen.
But this apart, it's pretty much the same as last year's show.
But there's one major enhancement that has probably passed you by unless
you're one of the lucky few hooked up to ntl's digital service - Big
Brother is now a fully-fledged "enhanced TV" programming property. Like
most pieces of faddish jargon the term "enhanced TV" can mean different
things to different people, but its hippest usage among media's style
leaders is to describe the support of a programme property with
interactive content across several digital platforms.
Last year, Big Brother had a website. This year, following a three
cornered deal between the programme's producer Endemol, its broadcast
channel, Channel 4, and the interactive games and technology specialist
Two Way TV, Big Brother has one or two more bells and whistles. By
pressing the appropriate button on your ntl remote, you can call down an
interactive panel that will allow you to take part not just in the
weekly eviction votes but in a whole range of other polls too. There
will also be a game called E-Victor on the Two Way TV games channel and
the website is more interactive.
There are those in the business who believe that enhanced TV is going to
be very big. It could have a huge impact on just about every TV format
you can think of - and the ITV Network Centre, for instance, is
currently telling programme producers not to bother pitching new ideas
unless they have an enhanced TV angle. Currently, enhanced TV
technologies are being used to deliver added value for viewers - for
instance on Sky Sports Extra, where you can choose your own camera angle
or call up action replays or statistics.
Enhanced TV will increasingly offer advertisers new opportunities. It
would make sense, after all, for Two Way TV's content to be sponsored by
the same advertiser as the broadcast programme, wouldn't it? Tom
Armstrong, the head of interactive advertising at Two Way TV, agrees
that there are interesting possibilities opening up, but says there are
still some issues to be resolved: "Interactive TV enhancing the live
broadcast will be potent, there's no doubt about that - but you have to
be careful about taking viewers out of the broadcast stream. You can't
induce advertisers to click on a banner in the voting panel because
immediately there's a conflict with the broadcaster. You don't want to
take them away from the show. We see ourselves in a supporting role. Our
message is: 'You've seen the programme, now go and play the game.'"
It's not always going to be a co-ordinated sell, either. Not at this
point, Armstrong says: "Channel 4 owns the airtime, Endemol owns the
website advertising and we own the game. It's difficult to do one sell
because you get into all sorts of questions about revenue split. Also,
to get a whole co-ordinated advertising project up and running at the
moment would be an enormous undertaking - you'd have to talk to a huge
number of people and application-test a number of things and it would
have to be structured carefully because they all run on different time
lines. When you tie up the sponsorship deal, that's when you realise you
should have started the website months ago."
Some media owners are already realising they need to address the issue
of offering integrated packages to advertisers. ITV, for instance, has
made sure that it has acquired both the internet and the interactive TV
rights to Who Wants to be a Millionaire? as it begins developing an
enhanced version of the show. But despite this sort of initiative, some
observers remain sceptical. Nick Theakstone, the deputy managing
director of MediaVest, says that the technology has yet to prove itself.
He says that lead times are also a problem: "Obviously advertisers can
potentially do a lot of interesting stuff and once you've interested
them you can ask them questions and stimulate trial of your product.
You've got to get completely through the line and if you can get people
out of the interactive platform and into your website, then you're
really going places. But then you need all of this activity to be
reflected on-pack. So the lead time for all of this could be something
like six months and you don't always have six months when we're talking
about tying up a broadcast sponsorship. The important point is that for
it to work, the broadcaster has to have all the rights. We'd want to tie
it up with one conversation."
One major advertiser that has recently upped its commitment to testing
this water is GlaxoSmithKline. Its Complete Care brand is not only the
sponsor of Survivor but is also backing that with activity on
interactive platforms. John Blakemore, the UK advertising director,
comments: "Yes, it's of interest to advertisers but really on a trial
basis. At the moment the emphasis is on the back end interactive stuff
and at the moment that's designed primarily for data capture. The big
question for us is whether in the long run this sort of service is
really of interest to consumers.
It needs to add value to their proposition if it's going to add value to
our proposition. We'll be looking to measure response and awareness and
analyse the data we've captured. At this stage we have an entirely open
mind about it. We can't draw any conclusion until the end of the test -
and that's eight weeks away."
But if it does interest viewers, new relationships will have to be
forged to take advantage of the opportunities. That's certainly the view
of Jon Wilkins, a founding partner at Naked: "This is a wonderful way of
extending the relationship between a brand and a viewer and the point is
that it becomes a one-to-one relationship. But the usual rules apply. It
has to be an empathetic part of the programme property and it can't get
in the way of the viewer's enjoyment. If you can get that right you
really are in business from a marketing point of view. But developing
this sort of opportunity will mean the involvement of the broadcasters,
production companies and media agencies, approaching it in a much more
proactive way. Sponsorship, for instance, is often traded in an
opportunistic way and while there is nothing wrong with opportunism it
doesn't help you embed a brand into the development of the property."