Medius

Interactive Television

In IPTV on January 15, 2010 at 4:15 am

The promise of interactive television has been one made in many iterations harking all the way back to the early nineties with a Time Warner roll-out in Orlando, Florida. This service promised movies-on-demand, home shopping and video games to an audience of around 4,000 customers. Then in 1995 the plug was promptly pulled.

Fast forward to today and movies on demand (now VOD) is coming thick and fast from sources like NetFlix, Blockbuster and your local monopolist – the cable company. Home shopping has been long-won by the Internet. Online gaming has morphed with devices from Wii, XBOX360 and PS3 into something more akin to a movie streaming, multi-player gaming smorgasborg.

In a more innovative sense there are some interesting developments on the horizon currently being tested with groups such as Xerox releasing a patent for “addressable” advertising. Basically this is customized advertising embedded within the actual programming (to avoid commercial zapping) and personalized to a contextual level and geographic at a minimum. For example you can be watching an automotive review show and the store fronts within the programming could have Ford logos applied perhaps with phone numbers to your local dealership.

Another technology called EBIF (Enhanced Binary Interchange Format) being used by Comcast. Now trialing an alternate version with Cablevision and provided by a company called Canoe Ventures (a co-operative among the 6 largest cable operators); this version allows for interactive responses by the viewer within the commercial.  The process is fairly straight forward where  an advertiser runs a spot that displays an on-screen prompt. A viewer can then use the remote control to request that samples or promotional offers are sent to their home. Conversion rates thus far have been impressive between 40%-70% with multiple opt-ins required. Advertisers can currently target 3MM users with 25 networks.

The cable companies efforts are impressive though I have reservations this type of solution will get into top gear soon. If you’re looking to see how complex and boggling the various mergers and deals have been in the industry looking to tackle this market over the past 15 years – here’s a great trip down memory lane in an article from New Scientist titled “TV’s Loose Connections”.

I’m not sure if the industry has the focus to make interactive television a reality. What with the egos, and media mogul posturing to contend with – and that’s just the TV networks. Try melding that with movie studios, gaming companies and manufacturers and try to pull something together that makes sense to the advertiser and can scale. Google couldn’t do it with their failed foray into streamlined spot buying. Heck – networks can’t even figure out how to pry themselves out of the 3 car pile-up with Leno, O’Brien and Fallon – so good luck seeing a homogenized interactive television offering soon.

I’ll be thrilled if even a few providers, platforms and devices can co-operate on this opportunity. Dare I mention Apple as a contender to pull the pieces together on this one? They’ve already managed to pull together the fragmented and factional music industry with iTunes. I. We might one day see AppleTV revert back to it’s beta name – “iTV” and homogenize all home entertainment and personalized advertising into a presentable package.

For now I guess I’ll get by with two remotes, a computer mouse and a Wii control to carve up my entertainment entrée. However – if Apple can develop a compelling “interactive magazine” offering in their pending tablet announcement later this month – I might not have time left to be bothered with television at all!

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