This past weekend I was visiting my folks on Cape Cod. While I was watching Comcast, an interactive commercial popped up, prompting me to click the remote for a free sample of shampoo. For all the discussions in the trade publications that ruminate over whether or not people will “click,” I found the real-world experience so simple it was hard NOT to click.
During the various stages of interactive TV, I have always felt that we let our minds get stuck in wet cement at whatever is the current “stage.” It’s been difficult for many to evangelize their companies’ long-term futures with their concentration so focused on pouring concrete. For instance, before the introduction of “EBIF,” Microsoft had been pitching its brand of standardization known as “ATVEF” since well before the year 2000. The standards discussions have been around a long time; hopefully with Canoe Ventures’ upcoming deployments, we’ll start to get beyond that public relations boondoggle.
The emergence of the tablet, however, has spun the conversation tangentially onto whether people want to “click” on their tablets, or whether they would rather “click” their remote controls; obviously the correct answer is that “consumers want to click both.” I am somewhat confused why this pointless debate still polarizes both sides of the aisle. Both before — and especially after — the introduction of the tablet, many of those on the Internet side of the aisle have been hardened in their bias towards “interactive TV” and feel it is a dead issue and we are all sadly in denial.
Today we find the interactive television space trapped in middle earth somewhere between talks about completing the deployment of the EBIF standard, and sheepish communications reporting weak results from early adopters of the technologies. Three cheers to Cablevision which, in my opinion, has made the strongest impression to date with a recent PR push for its “TV click to email” technology. The broadcasters, though, have no strong voice in this matter and are currently stuck — except for mobile DTV efforts — in a fragmented marketplace. This situation has made it almost impossible for broadcasters to provide any ubiquitous multiscreen experience.
I think the advertising, television, and Internet industries have a “three-second” memory just like a fish. The popular belief that people still don’t want to click on TV commercials is just us bumping up against the inside of that guppy bowl again. It’s like we have all forgotten that the country recently converted to high-definition television — and that the big increases in TV revenue had nothing to do with the fact that the industry was delivering something that consumers were actually happily upgrading to use. Interactive TV is just an extension off that HDTV demand.
A single company has to light a match and set the fire that’s needed in order to accelerate clickable TV deployments. I don’t think Canoe Ventures is such a “lit match,” so we still have a short time left to fumble in the dark hoping for someone to flick the switch. While Canoe Ventures is critical — especially for doing the unglamorous task of “pipe-cleaning” and deploying most of the first-generation experiences — it is the “still-on-the-drawing-board technologies” that will ride behind in Canoe’s wake that will eventually take the user experience to an unimagined level.
Comcast’s leveraging of its developing ad-serving technologies is being helped by video content found in NBC’s library. NBC cuts across all distribution, from the broadcast spectrum to the Internet. The NBC Owned Television Stations group allows Comcast to launch interactive broadcast technologies into local markets via its cable systems. Maybe the recent pooling of retransmission consent agreements across all NBC stations (owned and affiliated) will help move this scenario forward.
As evidence of this maturing corporate strategy, Comcast just moved the competition up a notch by starting to bundle regional cable advertising with its broadcast platform — NBC-Owned Television Stations now represents Comcast’s New England Cable News (NECN).
Once the conversation moves past Canoe’s independent effort of “pipe-cleaning,” I expect a lot of attention to shift to NBC Owned Television Stations, which will most likely introduce interactive TV and then sell it in competition with local non-interactive ABC, CBS, and FOX spots. Certainly the antitrust regulators will look closely at the situation; however, with the future of cross-platform advertising shaping up to be so lucrative, and in a nod to self-regulation, soon we might see the pearly gates of Comcast swing wide open and invite many of the independent interactive TV technologies through it’s front door.
—Michael Kokernak is the president and CEO of Across Platforms. Across Platforms, Inc. is a multiscreen technologies consulting firm. The Boston-based company focuses on providing clients with services tailored to the multiscreen viewing environment. Kokernak is also the founder of BCM, Inc. (formerly Backchannelmedia). He welcomes your questions or comments at [email protected]. You can also follow Michael via Twitter.