In a deal brokered by its media agency, WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, Cadbury-Adams' Sour Patch Kids will ask viewers a series of questions during several key scenes of the "Mean Girls"-esque docu-soap, such as, "Is she sweet or sour?" when one of the titular high-school divas is onscreen. Viewers can then enter their responses with their remote controls, and see the results of each interactive poll during the commercial break.
Selecting "Queen Bees" for its first foray into ad-supported i-TV was a no-brainer for MTV Networks. A September 2006 non-branded i-TV poll on The N's "Degrassi: The Next Generation" saw a 30-40% viewer participation rate, while a recent Harris Interactive study found 72% of reality-TV fans wanted the ability to interact with their favorite shows.
Hank Close, MTV Networks' president-ad sales, said, "If you look at the consumer segment and the audience we have a relationship with, they're quite obviously the audience that is most open to new technologies and at a higher rate."
MTVN and Cadbury-Adams are hardly alone in the recent adoption of i-TV to enhance marketing platforms. NBC Universal, for example, just signed a similar pact with Dish Networks to co-create i-TV ad opportunities for its clients across all NBCU networks.
Unilever forges ahead
On the marketing side, packaged-goods powerhouse Unilever was one of the earliest adopters of the technology, and this year conducted its first dedicated i-TV upfront for 23 of its brands with BrightLine Partners, an interactive technology firm. Jacqueline Corbelli, CEO of BrightLine, said the company has doubled its client base within the first six months of 2008, with the likes of Burger King and Ameritrade tapping the company to add interactive features to their TV spots.
NBCU's Bravo has also made several innovations in the i-TV space, including becoming the first network to create an ad-supported i-TV campaign for multiple cable operators with "Project Runway."
Although marketers' investment in i-TV is at a peak, it's still difficult to gauge user adoption of the technology. Ms. Corbelli said the average opt-in rate for an interactive ad campaign designed by BrightLine is typically in the 3% to 6% range. Yet recent non-branded i-TV experiments conducted by NBCU's Bravo, using interactive polling during shows like "Top Chef," "Project Runway" and "Shear Genius," have yielded participation rates as high as 26%.
Lisa Hsia, Bravo's senior VP-new media and digital strategy, said the ultimate goal of interactive TV, especially from a network's perspective, is to not only drive interactivity to the show but boost its ratings as well. "So the uber-fan will watch the show twice. It's not just a new source of revenue for the company, it gets people engaged, and gets us great feedback," she said.
'Info Frame' invites opinion
The network recently unveiled the Bravo Info Frame, an L-shaped bar that crops up during Bravo programs encouraging viewers to vote on interactive polls online or with their mobile phone.
Chrysler sponsored the network's first ad-supported campaign, which ran during "The Bravo A-List Awards" in June. Ms. Hsia said although specific metrics have yet to be determined from the Chrysler experiment, she was encouraged by early feedback and saw more votes online than she did in text messages. "It gave me a sense there was an active text experience. People loved to vote, and people really liked to give their comments to questions. I sense there's a thirst out there for getting their opinions on shows," she said.
The rise of i-TV among satellite TV providers like DirecTV and Dish coincides with the recent launch of Project Canoe, a cable-operator consortium headed by David Verklin, which was created to build a universal measurement system for video on-demand. As Canoe focuses on bringing addressable technology to VOD ads, i-TV has become a point of differentiation for the satellite companies, oftentimes with a shorter lead time to implement.
Response times improving
Because of the complexity of multiple contracts between cable operators and content providers, implementing a national VOD campaign could take months. Yet Scott Higgins, director of i-TV for Dish Network, said i-TV campaigns on the Dish platform can be implemented within a week, with more complex ones taking a little bit longer. In the case of the Sour Patch Kids campaign for The N, the deal took about six months in total to execute, due to the challenges of aligning the brand's messaging with a specific show and developing the technology.
Additionally, advertisers like Ford and Geico have been retooling recent interactive ads based on metrics they retrieved instantly from the Dish platform. "It's about getting direct feedback from the viewers and trying to create a better-tailored product," Mr. Higgins said.