NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- This week media agency Media Storm is set to launch Bolt, a new interactive-TV division dedicated to finding opportunities for marketers to buy ads on everything from interactive programming guides to branded in-show polling to video on-demand.
After years of experimentation, interactive-TV applications have yet to become a scalable solution for advertisers looking to give their TV ads a clickable, web-like functionality. But that hasn't stopped marketers and media agencies from putting more resources into planning and buying around the technology.
Craig Woerz, Media Storm's co-founder, managing partner and Bolt's chief interactive officer, said the division was the result of a high volume of client demand for dedicating more resources and campaigns to interactive TV, even as the expansion of the technology's footprint remains in flux.
At launch, Bolt will be rolling out iTV campaigns for clients such as Food Network, WeTV and the MLB Network across 35 million homes comprising subscribers from Dish Network, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, Charter LA, Bright House and Cox Media.
"We believe the scale is already there, but we're excited for bigger footprints," Mr. Woerz said. "If you can get 15 million to 35 million households to extend your message beyond 30-second spots, we're really in a great position already. So we've done a lot of work on our part to put together a division that requires not only one phone call, but eventually, common success metrics."
Variations among operators
Currently, Mr. Woerz and his team of 25 specialists are gauging the technology's success based on average interaction rates from previous iTV campaigns. Click-throughs have ranged from 5% to 35%, often varying by operator. Dish Network, which has been more aggressive than most in the iTV space, has been retaining 98% of the viewers who click to watch full-length commercials through iTV triggers or video-on-demand ads. DirecTV's iTV units have been logging high dwell times, ranging from 2-plus minutes for static ad units and 5 minutes or more for dynamic units.
Kenetta Bailey, senior VP-marketing for WeTV, said the women's cable network has used Media Storm to execute interactive campaigns for popular shows like "Bridezillas" for the past three years, and it has seen opt-ins increase each year, a sign that the awareness of iTV technology has increased. "The low cost of entry to do campaigns like these and the higher rate of participation tend to prove a lot more about what's working than traditional media [does], generally speaking," she said. "With our younger-skewing shows, we're reaching younger viewers who are used to interactive media, from mobile phones, PDAs, online and social media, so the habits are already there."
Katie Ilch, Food Network's director-consumer marketing, also noted that Media Storm has been instrumental in helping to create a common currency for buying interactive TV, with many disparate cable operators and markets often confusing the process. "The footprints are solid, and we get results, but we do look forward to a more turnkey opportunity, which Bolt currently re-creates for us now," Ms. Ilch said.
Bolt's formation also comes at a time when Canoe Ventures, a cable industry consortium designed to create and scale advanced TV advertising technology, has seen its first product launches hit major technological and marketplace setbacks. Canoe's first product, dubbed CAM for Community Addressable Messaging, was designed to deliver two versions of the same ad to different households in the same cable zone, or ZIP Code, based on demography and average income of the area. That product was delayed in June after being pushed for a third-quarter launch.
Plans for an interactive product, Canoe's Advanced Advertising Platform, or CAAP, are in place to begin rolling out by year's end and scale throughout 2010, but the delay has already scuttled some cable networks' plans to launch similar iTV applications in fourth quarter due to the lack of widespread availability of the necessary technology, called EBIF, to create them.
A Canoe spokesperson described CAAP as an "advertising stewardship system, which connects for the first time the disparate technologies and business systems of programmers and MSOs in a standards-based 'order to cash' platform. It is designed to optimize and support all of our advanced advertising products, connecting advertising agency buying and billing systems as well as the operational systems of the major programming networks -- a huge step forward in making cable's advanced advertising easier to buy, use and measure."
Despite industry-wide frustration with Canoe's stops and starts, Mr. Woerz remains supportive of the company's efforts. "People don't realize this is a tough nut to crack. If you try to crack it wrong one more time, you'll lose the complete faith of the business," he said. On-demand advertising and interactive advertising still have trouble commanding respect from marketers and agencies. "Vendors have to fight to get meetings with traditional agencies. We can't all of a sudden point the finger at Canoe for not having everything together as fully projected. We want to basically share with clients what can be done now, and stop being so negative about the setbacks."