Viable future for interactive ads

In two weeks’ time (February 22), delegates from some of the world’s most innovative companies, including British Airways, Procter & Gamble, Whitbread, Mars and Nokia, will gather in London to investigate the future of interactive TV.

During the conference, “Interactive TV – The New Billboard for Advertising”, delegates will look at the results of interactive TV trials from around the world and hear how a number of pioneering advertisers are exploring this new platform.

Early trials in the US were met with scepticism about its potential to offer real consumer benefits. More recently, however, the launch of TPS in France suggests the medium will indeed occupy a significant position in the repertoire of Europe’s advertisers.

The TPS service has been running in France since 1996. One of its pioneer advertisers, Renault, saw promising results when it aired its first interactive ad. Renault overlaid an interactive icon on a traditional ad for the Kangoo. By activating the icon, viewers moved into Renault’s interactive area at the end of the commercial break. At the time of the experiment, TPS had about 230,000 subscribers.

Eighty-four per cent of those who saw Renault’s interactive icon visited the interactive area. Of those who visited the interactive advertisement, 3.5 per cent requested contact with a Renault dealer.

Inevitably, the hype surrounding any new event may inflate initial interest. But the fact that a significant proportion of those who tested the interactive process went on to initiate a relationship with Renault is encouraging.

There are also a number of other factors which suggest that interactive TV can become a viable and valuable platform for advertisers in the future. In its report, “Europe’s Digital TV Head Start”, Forrester Research identified three key forces that will drive the development of the interactive TV market in Europe.

First, the importance of an existing pay-TV culture. With more than 5 million subscribers each for their current analogue services, France’s Canal Plus and the UK’s BSkyB have created pay-TV cultures for themselves and their countries.

Second, Forrester points out that digital television adoption will vary by country according to the improvement in choices it brings to customers, their appetite for pay-TV, and the push by regulators.

And finally, by 2010, more than 80 per cent of Europeans are expected to be watching digital TV. In nations such as Sweden and the UK, governments will bring local analogue broadcasting to a close, stimulating the stragglers to sign up for digital.

Inevitably, interactive TV will have its teething problems, but ultimately it is likely to be commercially viable for brand builders.

In the meantime, agencies will be expected to provide specialist consultancy advice on the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of this new and complex platform.

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