But Will They Buy?

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We've all learned there's a big difference in saying you "want" something, compared to buying it-or the actual satisfaction you derive once you've got your mitts on the coveted object.

And that pretty much holds true whether it's a member of the opposite sex, a sought-after Tumi laptop protector briefcase, or, say, perhaps, interactive television services.

With that caveat in mind, I caught up with Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing president Char Beales last week to delve a little deeper into the association's just-released study, which probed consumer interest in ITV.

Beales was juiced about the study's findings, which showed a huge demand for video-on-demand and personal video recorders (PVRs), and, to a lesser extent, Internet over the television set.

"This is better research than we've had; I'm more optimistic," Beales said, citing the fact that so many ITV studies often refute one another, but this one does not.

CTAM's report, she said, seems to mirror what Time Warner Cable had found in its excellent adventure with its Full Service Network-and what is now happening in the field in terms of actual VOD deployments.

The next phase, she said, is full steam ahead with market rollouts. This CTAM directional study might help operators to figure out what to roll out next, or at least confirm their present strategies, she added.

CTAM last fall surveyed more than 500 digital- and analog-cable customers in six major cities where digital cable is widely available. It did that by demonstrating eight different ITV services via video, and not by offering actual hands-on experience.

And that's the one problem I have with this study. It's like asking Santa what you want for Christmas. Of course, you check off just about everything because you saw an ad, knew that a friend has the item or think it's something you simply can't live without.

Because you don't have the item yet, your expectations are probably unrealistically high.

It's like the hints I dropped to my husband Bob before Christmas about the reviews I had just read of a new computer game, "Message in a Haunted Mansion."

Bob got my lead-footed hint and I got the game in my stocking. But actually playing turned out to be a very different experience from what I thought it would be. And I really wanted it.

The directions did not provide a clue on how to actually win. I'm getting into it now, having advanced to senior detective, but the game wasn't what I thought it would be.

And that disconnect between what people say they want-and whether they will buy it and be happy with it-is my only rap about this CTAM research. Otherwise, I applaud the body of work, because it does shed light on how TV viewers actually behave.

For example, members of one segment that seemed to have a willingness to shell out for VOD services also reported that they often watch TV with their families or in groups. They also flip and surf through channels, watching two or more programs at the same time.

"In essence," Beales said, they are already simulating interactivity. And many of them-remember all participants in this study were cable-TV users, and not a sample of just PC users-often had the computer in the same room with the TV.

Beales admits the study is not perfect. The results can't be projected nationally. But she liked the fact that CTAM queried TV users, rather than just PC users. That makes a lot of sense when one considers that ITV services, after all, are delivered over the TV set. How wonderfully logical.

While this isn't exactly rocket science, the study also confirmed what most marketers had thought: viewers most receptive to ITV are already into big screen TVs, DVD players and have high-speed Internet access.

Again, this study confirms much of what we thought we knew. It also slices and dices behavior in a creative way. But like all research, nothing can actually predict human behavior. And I guess that's a good thing. Why else would there be so many wonderful things to bid or dump on eBay?

I haven't checked it out lately, but I'd be very curious to see if any TiVo Inc. or Replay Networks Inc. recorders-or any other new devices-are up there for auction.

CTAM's full report on ITV is available for $7,500.

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