CTAM Summit: Interactive TV's Reality


Complete coverage of CTAM Summit 2010

This time, interactive television is really real. Really.

That was the primary theme of Monday's CTAM panel called "Getting Interactive: Re-inventing Cable Television" now.

The real concrete fact is real things are happening for the first time," said Peter Low, president and COO of Ensequence. "We have the capability in place to create interactive applications across multiple television platforms and it's happening in a regular fashion."

Cox Communications has had interactive applications in its three biggest markets, and they get used a lot, said Steve Necessary, vice president of video strategy and product management at Cox. It has a strong user base for advertising applications, he said.

More importantly, as Cox converts its interactive system to EBIF enabled applications "we're going to make money with it," Necessary said. "EBIF is positioned to enable that."

Lisa Meier, vice president of sales at Time Warner Cable, said that interactive and multi-platform applications were beginning to take a bite out of the biggest player in the $7 billion Los Angeles ad market, which is direct mail. "Because broadcast is such a meaningful medium to influence behavior, [advertisers] are poise to use interactive TV to have one-to-one communications with their customers," she said.

Canoe's emerging experiences show that interactivity is powerful in advertising applications. When advertisers use interactivity and an RFI [request for information] application, unaided recall of the advertisers brand is 130%, according to Canoe's Timko. With polling and trivia applications, recall rose 167% and intent to purchase was up more than 40%, she said.

It also has benefits for programmers. Ensequence's Low said that his company did an interactive program with History Channel with a satellite provider and ratings for the program rose 18%. While not offering guarantees, "what we are seeing for the first time is consistent enough data to show it's likely."

Depsite the recent strides, there is much skepticism about whether interactivity is really ready for prime time after so many fits and starts.

"There's a pent up cynicism about whether this is actually going to be real," said Low. "Substantial traction will put the skepticism to the side."

One good sign he saw was that the relationship between the programmer and the service provider seems to be getting worked out. "There seems to be emerging thinking about what this model is going to look like," Low said. That's important because until a business model is established, each negotiation becomes a one off, which is cumbersome, to say the least. "There‘s enough activity so that the momentum will build on itself to solve it.."

And a flow of revenue will make interactivity more of a priority for all of the industry's players.

"There's got to be a way to monetize this before people are willing to jump in with both feet," said Jennifer Dangar, executive vice president, distribution and business development, The Weather Channel.

"Just because technology enables something doesn't mean it's worth doing," said Cox's Necessary. Operators need to know whether "new interactive capabilities really move the needle. Do they cause future engagement or can consumers take it or leave it."

Kathy Timko, COO of Canoe Ventures, said the cable industry consortium expects to have 25 million households enabled to run interactive EBIF applications by the end of the year. "Canoe is about scale," she said. "If we allow the consumer to interact, they will engage."

Since those days, technology has certainly changed. And the ability for viewers to interact with programming and advertising is gaining steam.