Tipping Point for Advanced TV Ads

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When are we going to see a clickable Super Bowl ad?

I wonder how much extra, say, Dockers would have paid for the pantsless-men spot to be able to capture the names and e-mail addresses of prospective buyers out of Super Bowl XLIV’s 106 million+ audience. Sure, the ad’s call-to-action directed viewers to its Web site to enter the free-pants sweepstakes. But it surely would have done even better with instant opt-in via the TV remote.

As a venue for advanced ads, the Super Bowl is several years off — we’re in the crawl stage here. To get to the walking stage, programmers and operators must hit critical mass on the ability to deliver interactive and/or addressable ads. What does that mean? It’s clearly somewhere north of 10 million homes.

There’s real progress to report on the interactive front: Comcast is at 12 million EBIF-enabled homes in multiple markets, and TWC has nearly 1 million in New York City. Canoe, if all goes as planned, will debut a real RFI interactive spot across all six MSO members sometime later this spring, initially on a single cable network (which the venture hasn’t publicly identified).

But it’s not just that the capability has to be there. For ITV, advertisers must adopt the technology in growing numbers so that an expectation starts building among viewers that their TV is something to interact with (and, by the way, it should be easy and even fun). You can’t do that if you’re running a handful of interactive spots in the local avails on a couple of channels.

Case in point: As a Cablevision subscriber, I’d been eagerly scanning the dial to see if I could spot one of its Optimum Select ads ever since the MSO announced them last fall. I’ve never seen one. I did receive at least a half-dozen e-mails from Cablevision telling me to look for them, though they never said which channels or times.

Turns out I watch too much HD.

The Optimum Select spots have been running only on standard-def channels, according to Cablevision — ensuring they were all but invisible to the likes of me. In the next month or two, the MSO plans to add the interactive feature in HD as well.

Which is, to be sure, progress. And the industry appears to be taking more and more of these identifiable steps forward to make advanced ads a real opportunity.