Success of digital services hinges on good preparations

Digital TV is almost upon us; the broadcasters are beginning to unveil their marketing strategies, disclose their levels of investment and reveal their programming plans.

We now know that ITV2 will be targeting younger viewers and producing relevant sports, music and magazine shows. All the players are now focusing on how to deliver and promote the topline content.

But what about the other great promise of the digital age? Namely, the interactive services which are expected to bring everything from shopping to banking into the home.

Here the picture is murkier. All parties are keeping most of their plans – and developmental problems – under wraps.

Already, British Interactive Broadcasting (BIB), the BSkyB-backed digital satellite TV platform, has indicated to ad agencies that its home shopping system may be forced to rely on the old technologies of phone and fax during its launch phase next spring (MW April 30).

Further uncertainty over the roll-out of interactive services has been fuelled by the closer scrutiny of regulatory bodies, issues concerning compatibility across platforms, and the departures of key individuals.

If digital in general has been subject to delays, we will have to wait even longer for interactive services.

For media owners, setting up the required infrastructure is a huge undertaking. They need to ensure their new programming is successful and generates revenue.

Interactive services will play an integral part of the longer-term future of digital TV operations. First, they will provide both a point of difference to existing “passive” delivery systems. Secondly, the new revenue streams from the transactional elements of e-commerce services may make a major impact on overall financial success.

Digital broadcasters will face the tricky balancing act of creating a consumer “buzz” in their interactive TV services, while managing any over-optimistic expectations.

At the outset it may be that consumers can look at or move their money around but will not be able to conduct full banking. However limited, it is important from an operational point of view that these areas are robust at launch.

Ad agencies, too, must keep working to develop their strategies, despite confusion over what will be on offer to clients.

Everyone may be concentrating on what will work in their interactive areas. But thought must be given to effective communications at the key “gateways” within a digital environment.

BSkyB plans to make the final ad in every break an interactive one. To draw people in, effective signposting in any spot advertising will be essential.

The start of interactive services on digital TV may have been pushed back, but marketers should prepare for their arrival.

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