Ad Execs View TCIs Interactive Future


Advertising-agency executives who attended a
Tele-Communications Inc. summit on interactivity earlier this month praised TCI for
holding the session, but they said they were still awaiting a clear plan of action from
the cable operator.

On Nov. 4, TCI hosted the meeting at its National Digital
Television Center in Denver to start a "dialogue" on transforming TV advertising
to interactive, two-way applications.

Top TCI executives attended the meeting, including chairman
and CEO John Malone and president and chief operating officer Leo J. Hindery Jr.

The companies represented ranged from Anheuser-Busch Cos.,
PepsiCo Inc. and Visa International on the client side to BBDO Worldwide, J. Walter
Thompson Co. and McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising on the agency side.

Jerry Machovina, executive vice president of TCI's cable
unit, TCI Communications Inc., who organized the summit, said the main objective was
"to get them up to speed and seek their guidance."

"The only problem that I had with the meeting was that
there was no clear plan on when and where [it'll happen], what the parties are looking for
and how much [it'll cost]," said Jean Pool, JWT's executive vice president and
director of North American media services.

It was also unclear how many digital boxes are out there
versus on order, she said, adding that overall, the summit was "more, 'This is coming
and what do you think?'"

Alec Gerster, chairman of MediaCom, Grey Worldwide's
new-media spinoff, acknowledged that TCI had little concrete news on its digital rollouts,
but added, "The important thing is that they did [the summit] in the first place
… The digitalization of TV has so many scary and, at the same time, wonderful

More than anything, the meeting was "an exchange of
ideas," said Bob Igiel, executive vice president of both Young & Rubicam Inc. and
its media division, The Media Edge. For digital-box deployment, he said, the initial phase
will cover the next three years, to be followed by "deployment in more meaningful
terms in three to seven years."

Machovina admitted, "There's a lot of devilish
detail" to be worked out for interactive advertising.

"We want to come up with an industry strategy, not a
TCI strategy," he said.

TCI wants to avoid "the Field of Dreams
metaphor -- If you build it, they will come," which was mentioned several times
during the summit, Machovina added.

"We're not about to build it and assume that consumers
will come … We want to be sure that the consumer will use this," Machovina said.

Among the details to be worked out, he said, are the
appearance of interactive ads and the need for commonality among MSOs and advertisers.

"The watchword, or phrase that we're using, is, 'Watch
and surf,' since it will have an Internet-like, "point-and-click" format, using
a remote control, rather than a computer keyboard," he said.

During the session, TCI played a six-minute video that
outlined the MSO's vision. The tape featured different applications in spots for AT&T
Corp., General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division and Kraft Foods' Minute Rice.

Kraft early this year became TCI's first client -- via Grey
and spot-cable rep National Cable Communications -- to make a spot buy that will involve
addressable advertising down the road.

TCI pointed out how viewers could click on an AT&T
screen to order a five-cent weekend rate, or on a Minute Rice ad to receive recipes.

During these interactions, the programming being watched by
viewers will continue to occupy the remaining two-thirds of the TV screen, he said, adding
that copy interspersed between the spots reminded attendees about interactivity's

The next post-summit steps, Machovina said, will be the
formation of an industry task force on interactive advertising and the scheduling of a
series of one-on-one meetings with the participants, including some that proposed
proprietary projects with TCI.