Bravo Tries Out One 'L' of an Ad Experiment

NBC Channel's Space Over Borders of Screen Offers Interactive Marketing Opportunity

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Viewers have long talked back to their TVs. If new technology NBC Universal is trying out takes hold, those viewers might actually be heard.

In March 2008, NBCU's Bravo expects to test onscreen an L-shaped space -- known as an "L-Bar" -- during a showing of Bravo's "A-List" awards. The graphical overlay will appear at the borders of the program, causing the show to shrink to 80% of the screen when that new space appears. Viewers will see messages and information, such as commentary on the proceedings or calls to vote via text message -- not to mention an advertiser logo in the lower left-hand corner. And the L-Bar could also be used to spur activity during commercial breaks.
Lisa Hsia, senior VP-new media, Bravo
Lisa Hsia, senior VP-new media, Bravo

Becoming 'incentivized'
Through use of this technique, ads could become "interactive, featuring opportunities to participate in sweepstakes, coupon offerings, and advertiser text messages and web/wireless web offerings," said Lisa Hsia, senior VP-new media, at Bravo, who said she hopes "viewers will be more incentivized to watch the commercial pods." Chrysler is expected to sponsor the L-Bar during its first appearance, she said.

Thanks to advancements in cable and satellite set-top boxes, more consumers are able to interact with advertiser messages through their TVs. The trend gives marketers hope they can use that technology to win over consumers who want to avoid ads by stepping away from the TV set or zapping past them with a digital video recorder. But creating an interactive ad for a national audience is difficult given that each cable or satellite system has its own nuances.

Having viewers do such things as clicking a remote to "telescope" to an advertiser video still requires navigating "the confines of the Comcasts and Time Warners," said Susan Rowe, senior partner and managing director at Neo, a digital-marketing specialist that's part of WPP Group's Ogilvy. Bravo's idea "sounds like a nice work-around," she said. "You want to be careful about clutter, but if it's something that would keep people glued to the set during commercials, we might be interested in it."

While intrusive, Bravo's idea follows techniques used by game shows such as Fox juggernaut "American Idol" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" that ask viewers to text preferences or votes to a central hub. Bravo has solicited audience reaction itself, during "Top Chef" and "Project Runway," Ms. Hsia said.

The L-Bar would mark another in a series of ad experiments NBC Universal has tried this fall as the network looks to keep viewers from turning away or zapping forward. Many of these plays have surfaced on the company's flagship broadcast network. During "Heroes," for instance, American Express ran a spot touting both its ad and the program it interrupts. Viewers were told "Heroes" would return but also to stay tuned for an ad featuring singer Beyoncé; the spot featured comic-book-style art, echoing the show it supported.

MasterCard also has sponsored extra clues into a conspiracy surrounding the lead character on NBC's "Life." "It's a conscious effort on our part," said Mike Pilot, NBC Universal's president-ad sales.
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