Plea: Make Consumers Demand VOD

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Cable operators aren't doing enough to tell potential consumers about video-on-demand, according to an executive from ad agency Ogilvy & Mather.

"They've gotta make consumers drool for these services," said executive director of emerging technologies and innovation Christopher Gebhardt, who spoke at a seminar on Advertising in the Digital Age here. "I don't hear people talking about them in the real world."

Also at the seminar, sponsored by The Carmel Group, nCUBE Corp. chief technology officer Greg Thompson explained that cable was burned when it hyped up early entries into VOD, such as Time Warner Cable's Full Service Network experiment in Orlando, Fla.

"They don't want that to happen again, so they are focusing on installation of infrastructure so they won't get 'denial of service' messages by consumers," Thompson said.

Cable is not known for its marketing, but that has to change because VOD is a great product, Gebhardt said.

But he admitted that his clients don't understand VOD or other interactive applications. Some of them think their 30-second spots will be "polluted" by pop-up enhancements, and would be just as happy if interactive providers would only call "after the dust settles," Gebhardt said.

"I don't want that," he told the audience of content creators and other agency representatives. "I want Ogilvy to get the best ideas."

He agreed with research that indicates that interactivity will significantly change the TV viewing experience within the next five years, and advertiser thinking will have to shift from quantity of reach to audience quality. The "best people" for advertisers to reach will be first-adopters of new technologies.

CHALLENGE LIST

But he outlined several challenges that need to be overcome in order to attract advertisers:

  • Interactivity must have a clear value in the media mix;
  • Content developers must foster relationships with agencies and explore co-creation opportunities;
  • And developers must come up with a base metric—something other than a click-through—to measure effectiveness, he said.

Cable wasn't the only platform criticized for its lack of marketing prowess: Digital video recorder manufacturers also took hits from the crowd. Technology developers said they haven't found a good way to tell their story.

"People have to actually use it to get that 'Oh my God!' moment," said TiVo Inc. executive producer Jim Monroe.

Some advertisers have started to embrace interactivity, panelists indicated.

After the recent advertising upfronts, GoldPocket Interactive was able to close deals with 23 major advertisers interested in set-top, PC or wireless interactivity, said CEO Scott Newnam.

LET'S GET TOGETHER

Various industries should collaborate, panelists said, because as advertising becomes more addressable, it also becomes more avoidable. Even TiVo, the DVR that allows consumers to zap commercials, has experimented with advertising, said Monroe. But after six months, a business model has yet to develop, he said.

SONICblue senior vice president and CTO Andrew Wolfe took time during his speech to defend technology that made his company the target of a copyright lawsuit. The action stemmed from the ability of SONICblue technology to both zap commercials and transmit programs from one box to another.

Wolfe defended his hardware, noting that readers could photocopy and redistribute copies of the front page of The New York Times,
but no one has advocated the elimination of copy machines. SONICblue is just trying to create a technology to improve the viewing experience, he said.

Some participants questioned whether the Big Three broadcast networks would remain dominant once interactivity gives many entertainment providers the ability to become valued aggregators.

"It's in everyone's interest to make broadcasting continue to work," said NBC Digital Media president Marty Yudkovitiz. Networks like Home Box Office can produce quality television, but their viewership still doesn't generate enough numbers to keep a show on NBC, he said. Hits still come from broadcast and that success extends through runs on cable and syndication, according to Yudkovitiz.

"The ability to make hits goes away if the economics go away … to completely destroy the system is in nobody's best interest," he said.

"This gloom and doom is completely overblown," countered Wolfe. "If NBC doesn't pay, [creators] will just go somewhere else and work for less. Quality programming is not going to go away."

Even DVR makers would not predict the death of real-time TV, non-interactive TV viewing. There will always be events — like the Super Bowl or hit shows people will want to discuss over the water cooler the next day — that will be recorder- and zap-proof, said Newnam.

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