Phil Dwyer

Phil Dwyer is editor of New Media Age

One of the most astonishing things about the rise of the World Wide Web is the way it has swept aside all other forms of new media.

Media owners, advertisers, and marketers alike have focused upon this new medium, “forsaking all others”. It is, in my view, a marriage made in haste, that they might repent at leisure.

Take interactive television. In the US, and increasingly in the UK, media owners and advertisers have abandoned interactive TV trials, concluding that consumers do not find the interactivity compelling enough to pay extra.

Many of these trials were built around a level of interactivity which was, quite frankly, facile: video-on-demand was about the most interesting idea that most of them came up with.

But nobody asked if the problem was with the medium or the way it was being used. Could more interesting trials, which allow viewers more involvement in the programmes they are watching, prove more effective?

Early results from the Birmingham trials of Two Way TV, a London-based company, set up to run interactive TV services in the UK, suggest they would.

This trial gives viewers a chance to “take part” in otherwise conventional programmes. Two Way TV allows them to pit their wits against on-screen contestants in quiz shows, or predict the outcome of live football matches.

The trial has demonstrated viewers will use and enjoy interactivity. Mastermind was the least popular TV game shows among the Two Way TV trialists, but when interactivity was added, approval ratings rocketed from 27 to 73 per cent among the same audience.

And during the final of Euro 96, Two Way TV managed to reverse the traditional dominance of the BBC over ITV. In the demographic group encompassed by the trial viewers, the BBC had 32 per cent of viewers and ITV ten per cent, according to BARB.

Yet when Two Way TV offered interactivity on ITV, the ITV audience share rose to 27 per cent against the BBC’s 15 per cent – a result which is directly attributable to interactivity.

Interactivity can also make viewers consume more media. According to Sparfax Airline Network, a company specialising in in-flight interactive entertainment systems, viewing figures for in-flight movies and programming rises by an average of 40 per cent when interactivity is added.

Sparfax’s in-flight interactive entertainment system was the first to go into full-scale, full-time service with a commercial airline (Cathay Pacific) over a year ago. That system has an “audience” of over 5 million travellers a year.

Research has also shown that viewers remember more about advertising when their involvement in the programming which surrounds it is high.

So by all means experiment with marketing and advertising on the Web. But experiment too with interactive TV, in-flight entertainment systems, interactive kiosks, and any other new medium you can find. Play the field before you settle down with the interactive medium of your dreams.

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