Panelists Peg Content As Key ITV Driver

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New York-At last week's Myers Forum for Interactive Television, Bob Dylan's song
The Times They Are a Changin'

was played during breaks.

Though that sentiment could have served as a theme for the one-day conference here, many speakers seemed to think that times weren't changing quickly enough.

The Myers Reports Inc.-sponsored gathering was intended to address how interactive TV would alter the advertising landscape, but few panelists could offer definitive predictions.

"Enhanced" or interactive TV is currently available in 1.5 million homes, mostly through Wink Communications Inc. said Microsoft TV group manager of interactive TV Paul Mitchell. That number soon will jump, due to Wink's current rollout on DirecTV Inc.'s direct-broadcast satellite platform, he added.

But national advertisers won't partake heavily in ITV until its reach is much broader, Mitchell told the more than 500 in attendance.

"The economics won't work unless you've got this ubiquity," he said.

Wink senior vice president and general manager Kevin Smith agreed.

Mitchell and other speakers also cautioned that there needs to be more to ITV than enhanced ads. Consumers won't pay for interactivity if it just means more commercials or opportunities to buy merchandise.

"[Just] selling Jennifer Aniston's sweater [on NBC's
Friends
] is not a business model," said Mitchell. "Nobody's figured out how that's all going to work."

However, Mitchell noted, the players with the most clout are "those with the money"-the advertisers.

Both clients and viewers will become more excited about interactivity when there's content to get excited about, said TBWA/Chiat Day director of international marketing and convergence strategy Jason Kuperman.

Not surprisingly, ESPN/ABC Sports president of marketing and sales Ed Erhardt said sports would be a huge driver of ITV's evolution.

The ITV and advertising communities must keep the needs of viewers, as well as advertisers, in mind, Erhardt said. Consumers will also be paying the freight, he said.

Erhardt urged more collaboration among media, clients and agencies. He hinted that ESPN/ABC Sports would soon announce the clients and MSOs with whom it would test ITV. Its plans range from walled-garden concepts with affiliates to retail-mall concepts with marketers.

Don Ohlmyer, executive producer of ABC's
Monday Night Football
, noted that the consumer is the most important factor.

"Too often [industry] people talk about the technology. [But] the viewer is not driven by the technology," he said. "The technology will be driven by what the consumer wants."

RespondTV president Richard Fisher offered several examples of ITV success involving his company's clients.

An enhanced spot for American Airlines, for example, featured a contest offering two airplane tickets. It generated 126 clicks in 16 states over its first five days, Fisher said.

In another unidentified market, 22 percent of those offered a discounted Melissa Etheridge CD in a spot for online music retailer CDnow ordered the product.

Home & Garden Television pitched a free issue of its
Ideas

magazine on Microsoft Corp.'s WebTV, and 142 viewers requested it in a three-month span. So far, 20 percent of those viewers have subscribed, he said.

Though he admitted his examples were not scientific, Fisher said they did show ITV's promise.

The ongoing debate about the future of the conventional 30-second TV commercial arose once more. Myers Reports CEO Jack Myers, the moderator, argued, "The 30-second spot is dying.It's not the standard for tomorrow."

Asked by Myers if PVRs meant "the end of TV advertising as we know it," TiVo Inc. chief programming officer Stacy Jolna said that the ad industry must "develop the next generation of TV marketing."

But WorldGate senior vice president Gerald Kunkel said the 30-second ad is not obsolete. Rather, it "now becomes the portal to interactivity," he said.

But TBWA's Kuperman cautioned that advertisers are concerned that viewers may be so busy interacting with the commercial they just saw, they won't be watching the next spot. Programmers have similar worries.

"In our case, we don't want them leaving the game," said ESPN/ABC Sports' Erhardt.

ReplayTV Inc. research vice president Susan Rynn said her company just added Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Sales to a client roster that also includes the recently signed Universal Studios and The Coca-Cola Co. All are so-called "traditional" accounts that now are exploring new media opportunities, she noted.

Myers asked whether buying across all of the various ITV platforms, rather than one-by-one, would be workable. "Absolutely," Kunkel replied.

An official from Campbell Soup Co. also thought that approach could prove interesting.

Carat North America's CEO David Verklin called on the ITV industry and the ad community to form "learning alliances" to share their knowledge.

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