|Two of the most promising emerging advertainment venues are TiVo and Cox's FreeZone cable service.
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Some are even beginning to sound like evangelists for the advertainment potential of new technologies like TiVo and ReplayTV personal video recorders; Cox Communication's FreeZone cable service offering free access to advertiser-produced content; and other basic cable services offering on-demand delivery of traditional programming content.
"It is disconcerting for many advertisers to think about giving up the sort of control they've had with the 30-second spot," said Gregory Wilson, founder and creative director of San Francisco agency Red Ball Tiger. But on the other hand, he notes, "all the barriers put up by broadcast television go away."
Charles Courtier, executive chairman of WPP Group's Mediaedge:CIA Worldwide, New York, notes succinctly: "The effect is huge creatively."
Mollie Weston, manager of production for Best Buy Co.'s advertising unit, is equally enthusiastic about the potential of selling into a viewer-controlled video market.
"We're no longer beholden to the 30-second [commercial] format," she says. "I don't think the 30-second commercial is going away. But people are consuming media differently than they did even a year ago."
Pop music fare
Ms. Weston's company started quarterly campaigns on TiVo about a year ago. Viewers can access a multiple-choice series of vignettes and exclusive performance footage of musical artists such as Paul McCartney and Sheryl Crow. Ultimately, it's all tied to special offers at Best Buy electronics stores.
Over the past year, Best Buy has further expanded its involvement in interactive TV formats. For example, the retail chain is working in San Diego with Cox's FreeZone, a "portal" that includes content from some civic-minded organizations such as the San Diego Zoo, as well as from advertisers like Best Buy.
James McDowell, vice president of marketing for BMW of North America, has taken a similar tack with a highly praised set of short, Internet-based advertainment films that have now migrated into the TiVo and FreeZone systems. "As I look off in the future, there are going to be many more interesting developments that will give us even more channels and choice about how to approach things," he said.
Others are exploring interactive advertainment possibilities of a totally new sort, such as online digital games in which products can be presented in a manner that allows viewers to physically experience them.
"What happens if you play a racing game -- with you in the car to feel the experience of that car?" asks Mitchell Oscar, president media and marketing consultancy HocusFocus. "The promotion becomes more engaging." Mr. Oscar was previously the director of media futures at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann.
Some basic cable channels also are experimenting with free VOD, a la
For instance, E.W. Scripps Co.'s Food Network, Home & Garden Television, DIY-Do It Yourself Network and Fine Living are all participating in a Time Warner Cable free VOD experiment in Cincinnati. There, Scripps has found that the free VOD demographics are ideal: The customers generally have very large cable bills, with $50 to $60 a month on the lower end of the spectrum. That indicates solid purchasing power.
Cox is another in a small clutch of major multiple systems operators that are seeking to offer free video-on-demand programming as a means of luring customers to become familiar with interactivity and actually pay for premium VOD content such as movies.
And Cablevision Systems Corp. has rolled out an entirely original on-demand service called Mag Rack, which essentially uses the portal concept to offer subscribers about 35 super-niche video "magazines" on such diverse topics as bird watching, weddings, Shakespeare and yoga. Comcast Corp., the U.S.' largest cable operator, is incubating another service that's reportedly similar to Mag Rack.
So far, neither the basic network nor Mag Rack free VOD services have involved opportunities for advertainment programming, as TiVo and FreeZone are providing. But observers point out that virtually every aspect of the nascent VOD market is subject to change.