With a roughly weeklong glitch now resolved, Wired magazine and Showtime are again using augmented-reality tech to let readers trigger ads by pointing their camera phones at the September issue.
The program allows consumers who point smartphones with the "Watch Carefully" app at Wired's cover or a Showtime ad inside to see animation, a game and videos promoting the upcoming series "Homeland" and a preview of the new season of "Dexter."
Print has experimented with augmented reality before.
The July 2009 cover of Popular Science allowed computer webcams to trigger animation from General Electric. Esquire's December 2009 augmented-reality issue let readers hold the cover and certain inside pages up to their computer's webcams to see Robert Downey Jr. pop off the cover to talk, a video rendition of its Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman and other elements. Last November the free commuter paper amNewYork enabled smartphones to pull up "enriched editorial" such as Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons float from the pages of the paper.
But augmented reality, or AR for short, hasn't become widely used in print yet, not even to the degree that 2-D barcodes have.
Wired readers present a good opportunity to try out emerging technology, said Howard Mittman, VP-publisher. "We have an opportunity to do things with the Wired audience that don't exist with a lot of other magazine brands," he said. "Our community tends to come here for the latest and greatest. Whether or not this catches fire and becomes a mass play I can't say, but for Wired right now it presents an interesting opportunity."
Showtime was looking for new ways to engage consumers. "My team had been looking at augmented reality as a -- and I don't like this word but I'm going to say it -- a media tactic," said George DeBolt, senior VP for media and promotions at Showtime Networks. "What I've been pushing my team internally to do and our media agency [OMD] to bring us are ideas that merge traditional media with digital media. I'm not going to say digital media is the future -- digital media is now, it's the present. But I also think there's value in traditional media."
Wired suggested the technology vendor, a company called Zappar. "Some of the augmented-reality experiences I had seen were clunky, they didn't work right, they didn't work quickly enough," Mr. DeBolt said. "At Zappar the experience worked seamlessly."
Unfortunately for Showtime and Wired, an update to the iPhone app on Aug. 31 also made it crash. It took until Thursday, eight days later, for Apple to post the fixed version to the App Store. In the interim, consumers posted complaints.
Showtime said it took the problem in stride -- if a little impatiently. "I guess I'm not the most patient man," Mr. DeBolt said. "I would have liked it to be solved more quickly."
But risk comes with experimentation, he said. "It's a different reaction than if I had sent my print creative to a magazine and it wasn't published," Mr. DeBolt said. "There would be hell to pay for that ."
"With this particular situation my attitude is these technologies are new and still evolving so I'm going to be a patient man and go with it," he added. "As soon as we were informed, and we were informed immediately, all the different people that touched this -- at Apple, our media agency, internally -- were ferociously trying to solve the problem."
If digital media sometimes bring glitches, it at least allows for fixes as well, Mr. Mittman said. "Never-before-done ideas come with never-been-done before problems," he said. "The beauty of digital technologies is that they allow us to amend them and make changes along the way. If we make a mistake on the printed page, it's static."
Wired's October issue will include more AR ads from Showtime.