British Telecommunications' 11-month test involving 5,000 people in 2,000 U.K. homes ends in June. The trial, as large as the Time Warner and Bell Atlantic interactive TV trials in the U.S., aims to prepare the 40 participating advertisers for multimedia TV in the digital age.
The current test is taking place in the southeastern cities of Ips-wich and Colchester; however, if BT gets positive feedback from advertisers and viewers, the trial could be expanded to other parts of England.
BT created Adland, a service that tests and analyzes the potential of interactive commercials, for marketers including Sony, Hasbro, Nintendo, General Motors Corp.'s Vauxhall Motors and EMI Records.
GIVING ADVERTISERS THE PICTURE
"We believe this is the most advanced trial of its kind," said Tim Patten, BT's head of multimedia advertising services. "For many of these advertisers, Adland is trying to help them understand how interactive TV will affect their brands." Neither BT nor its advertisers would discuss ad spending during the trial period.
Viewers subscribing to BT's interactive service use personal access codes to enter programs supplied by various sources, including video-on-demand from Hollywood studios and music-on-demand from record companies. Other programming sources include TV production companies, banks and retailers.
Currently, viewers navigating the system access the interactive ads in Adland. After the test, BT executives will evaluate user patterns to determine the best way to weave interactive ads into the programming.
"If the advertiser wants to hit that audience, we shall find ways to integrate its ads with the appropriate programs," Mr. Patten said.
Unlike World Wide Web advertising on the Internet, where downloading images is still a lengthy process, interactive TV, by its nature, offers advertisers a video-friendly environment, Mr. Patten said. Ads can be as short as a traditional 30-second spot or as long as a 45-minute infomercial.
To create interactive versions of its Vectra car commercial, Vauxhall used the multimedia division of Lowe Howard-Spink, London. "We go into more detail, offering the viewer various options including.... safety and environmental features, fuel economy and where to find the nearest dealer," said Matthew Timms, new media manager for Vauxhall. "The trick is to find ways to get the viewers in."
The trick used by toymaker Hasbro's U.K. division, which joined Adland last December, is the presence of a "games master," an actor who functions as an emcee appearing between each of five Hasbro ads. The spots, created by Griffin Bacal Advertising, London, advertise toys for girls, boys, adults, creative play and the family. Once viewers choose a category, the games master encourages them to take part in competitions within each ad, call a toll-free phone number and vie for the toy being advertised.
TIME TO ASSESS
"We want to see what marketing opportunities interactive TV can provide us," said Sharon Carter, Hasbro U.K. marketing director.
When the trial ends next month, BT will analyze viewers' interaction with programming and advertising and get participating advertisers' feedback before determining the next step. If results are positive, Mr. Patten said the trial could be extended: "But money would be required, and we've no financial commitment in place yet."