U.K. AGENCIES TALK NEW MEDIA, BUT BRITS MAY SCREEN IT OUT

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Planning to cash in on the so-called information superhighway? Fine. But have you considered the "quantum theory of screen watching"? If not, you probably haven't been talking to British sociologist Laurie Taylor.

While other speakers at a recent Ogilvy & Mather conference in London delivered glowing prognostications of electronic newspapers, ads that talk back and smart TVs, Mr. Taylor gave attendees reason to be skeptical of new media.

"So much of what we are being told about depends on sitting in front of the screen, whether it is an interactive screen or whether it is a passive television screen," said Mr. Taylor, a visiting professor in the department of politics and sociology at the University of London.

People are growing tired of watching screens, Mr. Taylor warned, and there are signs that consumers want to get out of their houses more.

This might sound innocent enough, but to the superhighway technocrats, it is nothing short of heresy. After all, the central assumption underlying many new home-based technologies is that consumers want to spend more time interacting with computers and TVs.

"I saw an estimate the other day which suggested that the average person in this country will soon be spending an average at their workplace of 4 hours a day looking at a screen, a VDU, a PC," Mr. Taylor said. "Median television watching in this country is 18 hours [per week]. So we are talking about 38 hours a week watching a screen ...

"I have a quantum theory of screen watching. To me it seems that after a matter of time it doesn't matter what is on the bloody screen, you have had enough of screens. And you want to get out and you want to actually have an association with other people."

Due to higher levels of home ownership and increased TV watching, the amount of time the British spend at home has increased by 6.3 hours a week since 1974, Mr. Taylor said. But now there are signs that trend may be reversing itself.

Shopping, moviegoing, eating out and membership in volunteer groups have all increased over the past five years.

Mr. Taylor admitted some home-based services like banking or travel reservations that save people time might succeed. But he forecast a gloomy future for home entertainment.

"I don't believe that entertainment is going to become any more home-based than it is at the moment," he said. "My strong suggestion to you is, if it works, if it saves people time in the increasingly busy lives that so many people have, it will be adopted."

The O&M conference was chaired by WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell, who emphasized that interactive is both a growth area and an opportunity for agencies to differentiate themselves.

Elsewhere in London, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising last week said it will open a pan-European interactive unit in January.

Saatchi announced the unit at a one-day seminar attended by about 70 clients.

Moray MacLennan, joint managing director of Saatchi in London, said the chief executive of one of Saatchi's agencies in continental Europe will be named in a few weeks to head the unit, called Interactive Plus.

Three-person teams consisting of a media executive, a technical expert and a creative staffer will be set up in each of seven major European markets-Spain, France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. Saatchi already has an Interactive Plus unit in the U.S.

Mr. MacLennan said Saatchi originally planned to hire a single person in Europe to handle interactive activities but decided to go for a team approach instead.

"One dedicated person coming in new to Saatchi and trying to introduce something new and change peoples' behavior could find it very difficult and would be likely to get spread too thinly or get swallowed up by one client," he said.

U.K. ad agencies are increasingly appointing people to focus on interactive development. Chiat/Day, London, is probably farthest ahead; it is developing interactive advertising for Videotron's Interactive Channel in London for a monthlong test early next year.

Saatchi is also getting its feet wet in interactive media. One client, Two-Way TV, this fall starts a six-week field trial of a system that would let TV viewers play along with TV game shows and win prizes. Two-Way TV, a licensee of the U.S. company Interactive Network, said it will roll out nationally in fall 1995 with a $12 million ad campaign from Saatchi.

Another Saatchi client, British Airways, plans to test an interactive in-flight entertainment system in March.

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