That's why, amid the new-media zeitgeist of this year's upfront TV selling season, marketers and their agency envoys are scrambling not just to craft messages for multiple screens but also to understand the consumer experience of advertising on everything from plasma TVs and computer screens to cellphones and video-enabled MP3 players.
As broadcast and cable networks now offer actual programming, rather than just cute promotional gimmicks, that extends well beyond the living-room TV, media agencies are likewise defining metrics and best practices for the digital age of content without borders.
In this new programming paradigm, the user experience-how consumers interact with programming and ads on screens of different sizes-is all that matters, says Stacey Lynn Koerner, president of the consumer experience practice at Interpublic Media. "[Ads] should be different because people use different screens differently," she says. The problem for advertisers is that metrics aren't available to compare performance across all platforms. "No one has had a true need on an industry level to understand all screens."
Until now. How advertisers define audiences and the relative weight of different viewing experiences in this new-media world order will become crucial. Some advertisers, such as Johnson & Johnson for Splenda sweetener, have already created content for multiple screens, from 30-minute infomercials to short vignettes for the Web, she says, asserting, "We will see a lot more advertisers doing this and a lot more best practices by the time we are at this place next year."
So 2006 appears to be a year for laying the groundwork for the multiscreen future.
NBC has been sounding the digital gong loudly for the last several months with its new "TV 360" (as in 360 degrees) philosophy that embraces content creation for multiple platforms. This philosophy embodied the network's upfront presentations last month.
Taking a first look
In a recent move, NBC is launching NBCFirstLook.com, a site that will run the premieres of shows before they air on the network.
"Nothing aggregates an audience like a network TV show," says Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal Television Group. However, consumers "are trying and using these new technologies, and we want to be wherever they are, and that's why we are going to make our content available in as many places as possible."
But not necessarily identical content everywhere. NBC earlier this year made full episodes of its comedy "The Office" available on iTunes, for download on video iPods, the day after network broadcast. Now, NBC is creating short Webisodes of "The Office" to run online this summer. "It's a different experience," Mr. Zucker says, adding that in the future, marketers will also take advantage of such "different experiences" by retooling advertising for each screen.
Agencies' digital gurus agree.
A 5-second ad online or on a cellphone is probably more engaging in that forum than a 15- or 30-second spot would be, says Jen Soch, VP-associate director of advanced TV at Media-Vest USA, New York.
"Broadband now allows users to link to different areas. Eventually, we will have [video-on-demand] ability where we can telescope and leave the VOD program and go somewhere else," she says. "When we talk to our clients, we try to get them to tailor the message for the screen."
While TV is still the venue for the brand message to hook the viewer, the small screen can serve as a call to action, reaching the consumer at the point of purchase, where they're looking for information, searching for a product or ready to buy, says Greg D'Alba, chief operating officer-ad sales and marketing at CNN Ad Sales, which offers digital extensions in streaming video, wireless, podcasting, VOD as well as CNN.com.
But just because programmers offer something for all screens doesn't mean advertisers will choose to play in all. A marketer with a smaller budget may go straight to the Internet with ads on a broadband channel, such as CBS' Innertube, rather than make a network buy, says Jo Ann Ross, president-network sales at CBS. Also, some advertisers may want to take advantage of broadband to create longer spots that deliver more detailed information.
Some advertisers have already accrued early wisdom in the digital marketplace. When Kraft Foods introduced a campaign late last year for its Tassimo hot beverage system, Ogilvy Interactive engineered a product integration on NBC's "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" to create awareness, then partnered with Yahoo to create a store locator, says Maria Mandel, partner-executive director of digital innovation at the agency.
Even as each screen is suited for a different type of ad, the screen media need to work together. A 30-minute cooking show could include product placement from a marketer on-air, a clip from that same marketer in front of a 5-minute broadband video piece on how to prepare a particular meal and a sponsored recipe delivered to a mobile phone with a coupon attached. "It's really important to understand the role different screens have and to figure out the different ways of connecting consumers," Ms. Mandel says.
Those decisions will be driven in part by what audience the marketer is targeting. Ms. Soch says MediaVest client EarthLink reaches different demos by spreading its advertising across nearly all screens, including traditional TV, VOD, TiVo, broadband, mobile and video podcasts.
But convincing some advertisers to create unique video podcast content is tough because the audience is still small, says Tracey Scheppach, VP-video innovations director for Starcom USA, Chicago. When they do, they'll need to remember that consumers approach the iPod as a leisurely device, but view other mobile platforms such as cellphones and BlackBerries as more work-related.