Friday, July 13, 2007

Value-Add iTV

Put yourself in charge of a network for a while.

Many of your advertisers want to follow old-media rules. They only want to pay for commercial time for shows that air at predetermined times on the tube. Just like they always have. No time shifting. No screen shifting. No product placement.

How do you incent viewers to watch a telecast at the time and on the channel that your network chooses to air it? That's really the billion dollar question for the next few years as advertisers learn how to better estimate the value of alternate forms of marketing.

I think you have to provide something that only has value to the viewers actually watching the show in real-time on your network. If someone DVRs the show, that something has zero value. If someone watches the show online, then that something still has zero value. Seems obvious, but I really had to write that basic premise.

OK. Let's look at general features of potential solutions.
  • This something cannot simply be additional content. Time shifters watch exactly what aired. Just later.
  • This something must have a temporal component. A very short expiration date, if you will. Both time and screen shifters watch the show later and this something should not be available to any viewer at a later time.
  • This something must only be available to people who are actually watching the show. You don't want viewers to have the ability to post/text/phone with directions about how to take advantage of this something.
All of these features point directly to the set-top box as the key component for this something.
  • Time shifters get content from VCRs/DVRs/DVDs. Screen shifters watch content online. Shifters never watch the show as it's delivered in real-time by set-top boxes.
  • Set-top boxes provide a way for the cable company — and therefore the networks — to communicate with the viewer.
  • Digital set-top boxes provide a way for the viewer to communicate with the cable company during any specified time period as long as the set-top box is tuned to the proper channel.
Good. Now we've identified that set-top box should handle the transaction for this something. This something doesn't actually have to be delivered by the set-top box, but the box must complete the transaction between network and viewer. Call it interactive TV (iTV) or viewer engagement or whatever you want.

Finally. We can talk about this something with concrete examples since we set the boundaries and rules.

In some cases the set-top box can deliver this something.
  • During a commercial for Coca-Cola, you press the 'A' button at the prompt and a unique code for Coke Rewards appears on your TV screen. Once the commercial is over, the opportunity is gone.
  • Codes for special bingo cards for "National Bingo Night."
In other cases the set-top box simply handles the transaction.
  • At various times during the show, a small icon appears on screen. If you press the 'Info' button when the icon is visible, you're given the option to order outtakes, bloopers, movie trailers, or other special content for free VOD anytime during the next week.
  • Enter sweepstakes.
  • Unlock interactive games (or levels for these games) that viewers can play during the show.
  • Vote for concepts for improv or sketch shows.
  • Vote for stories for newsmagazines.
There is one huge missing piece of the puzzle though. I have no clue how much value this something must have to attract viewers back to the tube. It may turn out that shifters value their time and opportunity of choice so highly that it's not economical to bring them back.

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