Interactivity has not been universally deployed and content developers must still deal with multiple platforms. But that's not stopping "interactivists" from cooking up new content.
Under the auspices of the American Film Institute, code writers, producers and scriptwriters have been meeting annually for five years to mentor one another and develop ever-broader applications to get consumers to respond to their televisions via PC, Internet, cellular phones and personal digital assistants.
At the AFI Enhanced Television workshop here on July 24, content creators said it might take five years for a big interactive boom to build.
That timeframe was based on estimates for deployment of platforms by middleware vendor Liberate Technologies Inc. and others, and the establishment of video-on-demand suites that will include free zones with enhanced-TV content.
"I urge you to look at this space, so VOD's not just a glorified version of pay-per-view," Craig Leddy, founder of consultancy Interactive TV Works, told workshop participants.
Though deployment of the technology is limited, companies that have utilized interactive applications could demonstrate growth, in terms of increased value for advertisers and longer time spent viewing. Those measurements increase as programs use newer, improved technology and add more layers of interaction.
For instance, Game Show Network was interactive from its launch in 1994, but contact was initially made by telephone.
"We were lucky if 60 were playing along," said GSN senior vice president of interactive and online entertainment John Roberts.
When the network debuted Greed —
with a PC-based play-along powered by Gold Pocket Interactive — it drew 25,000 players on the first day.
Players fall into the younger demographic that advertisers crave. Roberts said 86 percent of the play-along crowd is from the 18-to-49 demo.
They also stay with a half-hour show for an average of 29 minutes.
Among GSN's clients, AT&T Corp., Discover Financial Services and Kraft Foods Inc. have experimented with interactivity and 86 percent of GSN's game players have interacted with ads.
Volvo Cars of North America has thrown some of its weight behind interactivity. It's sponsoring content in Cox Communications Inc.'s video-on-demand trial in San Diego, said Kirt Gunn, president of Cylo, the New York-based interactive marketer.
On Cox's "FreeZone" service, the car company will sponsor Volvo Adventure, which includes sailing footage and links to Volvo advertising content. It's an offshoot of a broad Cylo campaign for the Volvo S60 first launched in 2001, Gunn said. That effort included ads on Web TV and wireless devices, as well as content.
The car company generated 250 million impressions from that campaign, including 62,000 contest entries. Thirty-three percent of those users opted in to a dialog with the company. Volvo's cost was $10 per lead, Gunn said.
Also part of that campaign — which continues this year — was an application that ESPN and Wink Communications Inc. employed during the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men's Basketball Tournament. It generated 671,484 total impressions, with 2.1 percent of those who clicked through entering a contest.
The basketball contest also included a program that PDA users could employ to keep track of the tournament bracket. According to Gunn, 104,000 users did so, and 5 percent of all contest entries came from PDA users.
Fox Sports also used cell phones and PDAs for interactive polling applications during this year's Super Bowl. Viewers could interact through the PC, but 11 percent of participants linked via wireless device, said Craig Dalton, director of business development for Proteus, the network's interactive-content developer.
A significant amount of those users went to adjacent content, he added.
Discovery Networks U.S. demonstrated a prototype for its hit Trading Spaces,
designed by fans at Liberate, said director of new media John Herne.
The application could allow fans to vote on paint colors or to guess how a homeowner will react to their newly decorated room as the show airs.
Ads for furniture or tool manufacturers are possible and could be added as late as airtime, he said. As a VOD offering, the application could offer build-it-yourself instructions, homeowner updates and outtakes.
'PUSH' HAS BUZZ
But perhaps the greatest buzz at the interactive showcase was over the upcoming ABC television series, Push, Nevada.
Viewers may just watch the 13-episode show, a mystery about possible embezzlement by a casino investigated by an Internal Revenue Service agent.
But for those who want to help solve the mystery, clues — in the form of Internet addresses and phone numbers — will be sprinkled through the show.
Show developer LivePlanet, which was responsible for last year's Project Greenlight
on HBO, is creating a virtual back story for the town, including a Chamber of Commerce site for the community and a local newspaper with a searchable archive.
PDA and Internet phone users will get messages from the "Push hacker," a character in the story, to draw them into the show.
Advertisers will be employed as sites at which clues can be found. For instance, viewer-investigators could be directed to a local Toyota dealership to find a Polaroid photo containing story clues, said LivePlanet senior manager Larry Tanz.