Once eagerly awaited because of its promise of greater return on investment, keen targeting and ability to produce sales at a touch of the remote, interactive advertising has over the better part of a decade become almost a dirty word because of numerous fits and starts. It has cropped up in several smaller U.S. markets-Time Warner introduced it in its Hawaii and upstate New York systems, for example, and Cox has rolled it out in Phoenix. But bringing it to the media capital of the country could be the key to lifting its awareness among media buyers and agency creatives.
"I've been to about two dozen presentations on Madison Avenue talking about this," said Larry Fischer, Time Warner Cable president-ad sales, "and I think if they could only experience what I'm telling them, if they could only touch and feel it, it would make my whole presentation so much easier."
Imagine, Mr. Fischer said, if ads for New York grocery-delivery service Fresh Direct starring former Mayor Ed Koch had a drop-down screen that asked whether the viewer would like to see a menu and then allowed him to click a button to place an order. Another scenario could send people from a 30-second spot to long-form content with the push of a button. (This scenario has already been employed in a video-on-demand advertising scenario in which a 30-second spot instructs viewers to tune to a dedicated VOD channel.)
Advertisers appear to still be interested in the medium: At the recent ANA TV Ad Forum marketers were asked to name the most promising video-advertising vehicle of the future and interactive TV was the leader, with 31%.
Of course the mere presence of interactive TV in the Manhattan media market doesn't automatically signify sales will take off. When Time Warner Cable introduced video on demand to New York, advertisers suddenly got the concept-but VOD advertising has grown only a fraction of what other emerging media have, thanks to a lack of creative standards and poor measurement metrics that make it a hard sell to major national marketers.
Additionally, it is not quite clear where interactive advertising fits within media agencies between the digital buyer or the broadcast buyer, the latter of which often blanches at the idea of the premium CPMs required for interaction, typically around 15% higher.
Ultimately, what most intrigues marketers about interactive TV, is its ability to engage consumers and then be able to count that interaction.
Jon Mandel, chairman of MediaCom U.S. and chief global buying officer of MediaCom Worldwide, compared the precise direct-response metrics of interactive TV to the less specific of a national network TV ad buy. "Clients will be happier if they know they sell 101 of something than when they know they've sold a boatload," he told a group of cable executives at the recent annual NCTA gathering.
In the U.S., Echostar's Dish Network, whose advertising is sold by Turner Media Group (no relation to the Time Warner-owned networks), is arguably the furthest along in the space, offering interactive ad capabilities to 11 million homes. Rupert Murdoch has also had wide success with interactive advertising in the U.K. through his BSkyB property-something he's working to roll out in the U.S. across DirecTV.
"Advertisers are learning they spend all this money on the 30-second spot and create great video, and that's smart of them because video creates a great emotional tie to brand, but interactive can take that touch point and do something about it," said Dalen Harrison, CEO of Ensequence, a technology and middleware provider that has worked on more than 600 BSkyB campaigns.