Hungry TV buyers can’t get enough interactive advertising

So when will cable get its act together? asks Kevin West

Now that Five has successfully launched its interactive television (iTV) service, advertisers have more avenues than ever to extend their message on TV.

Red-button ads can run on 57 channels (and rising), with the opportunity to reach 30 per cent of all adults and even higher for that elusive youth market. Creative opportunities have moved on considerably since that first interactive ad, for Chicken Tonight.

The possibilities range from simple impulse ads – where viewers request more information, or a call-back – to connections to dedicated advertiser locations of various sizes, on-screen competitions and gaming channels, and betting won’t be far away. Already, advertisers can go beyond the spot, using interactions in a programme. Will interactive sponsorship credits be far behind?

So what challenges now face the industry? Well, from the media buying side, I’ll play Oliver Twist – I want more iTV; I want to know I’ve got more iTV; and I want flexibility to get lower prices. I estimate the industry will spend over £57m next year.

Let’s take these issues one at a time. Full interactivity is only available in Sky Digital homes. It seemed logical that cable should provide the easiest solution, with larger bandwidth, faster technology and so on. But four years on from Chicken Tonight, there are still no red-button ads in digital cable’s 3.3 million homes – that’s a potential 45 per cent more viewers.

And as production is cited as the major cost in iTV, such a huge increase in responses and return on investment could only help to expand the market. So, cable, get your interactive offering sorted. There’s money out there waiting.

As for accountability, TV is way ahead of other media in terms of how viewing is reported – virtually every commercial spot is logged and its viewership measured. Yet, other than Sky, most channels still do not report what spots are interactive. With the pressure on last-in-break positions (the natural home for iTV ads) increasing, this means in some cases only a proportion of a campaign’s ads are interactive.

We need all contractors to supply this information through DDS or a similar bureau. Not only will it allow buyers to monitor campaigns more easily, but crucially it will also allow us to gauge the size of the iTV market more accurately.

So I want more iTV availability (and I want GMTV and Viacom fully on board as soon as possible); I want easier ways to measure my campaigns and the market; and I want more research – and I want it cheaper.

For iTV, the future is now. Advertisers should question their agency hard if it hasn’t been broached. There is a chance for TV to take extra budget, if channels and platforms recognise that the consumer is king, time is the new currency and iTV is a fantastic way to interact one on one when they, not you, wish. “Mass niche” is how TV fragmentation has been described. “Niche mass” is how iTV can and will be described.

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