Earlier this month, Pearl, an industry partnership comprising eight of the largest broadcast station groups in the country, began to test the waters of the growing trend of making content richer and more accessible on a TV screen.
Pearl’s interactive-content trial, which provides interested viewers more information about certain news and weather reports, as well as coupons and store locations with photo and map overlays, is being offered to consumers who own LG smart TVs in Atlanta, Cleveland, and Orlando, Fla. Pearl’s members comprise Cox Media Group, the E.W. Scripps Company, Gannett, Hearst Television, Media General, Meredith Local Media Group, Post-Newsweek Stations, and Raycom Media, viewers of which cover 63 percent of U.S. households.
“We’re obviously living in a world of the Internet of things, and, five years ago, Wi-Fi wasn’t as prevalent; now it’s a given,’’ explained Anne Schelle, who is managing the trial as a senior adviser to Pearl. Set-top boxes, streaming media players, and connectable TV devices are making it possible for content providers to add new types of content to engage with consumers.
For marketers, interactive content is a new avenue to connect consumers to brands. It is “giving marketers the ability to take a passive expression and turn it into an extended dialogue [by giving viewers] cool video to watch,” said Rob Aksman, co-founder and chief experience officer of Brightline TV, a provider of digital interactive TV ad products. “I can now reach out with a remote or device sitting in my hand, and I’m a click or two away from seeing whatever other content the brand is teasing me with.”
Consumers today also have the expectation that they should be able to get access to content on whatever screen they want, observed Jeremy Helfand, vice president of Adobe Primetime. (Note: Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company.) “Marketers want to be where their consumers want to engage, and there’s an expectation now that you should be able to engage with consumers in those environments,” he told CMO.com.
More and more quality content is starting to be offered across devices, Helfand added, and “great brands want to be associated with great content, so this is becoming a really good way to help drive a brand’s recognition.”
Still In The Infancy Stage
Connected TVs are experiencing rapid growth. By 2015, 202 million Internet-capable TVs will be in U.S. homes, according to research firm NPD Group. That’s a 44 percent increase from 140 million at the start of 2013, the firm noted. Sixty-five percent of those devices will be connected to the Internet in 2015, compared with 56 percent currently.
“[Connected TVs are] growing substantially, they’re the prime screen, and they’re smart,’’ Schelle told CMO.com. “It’s a very elegant solution.”
From an advertising perspective, the connected TV/smart TV space is in its infancy, noted Matthew Bayer, vice president of advanced TV at global media conglomerate Magna Global N.A. “We have to figure out how marketers can best leverage this medium and get an understanding of those best practices, for there are seismic behavior shifts happening in consumers consuming video on connected TVs,” Bayer told CMO.com.
That shift is going to continue to accelerate over time--and “more rapidly than any other medium ever’’--as long as premium content is made available, Bayer said. But he also noted that connected TVs are just one platform in a “multiscreen-agnostic ecosystem” that includes traditional TVs, tablets, and other mobile devices. “We want to reach them in conjunction with how they’re consuming content. Siloing smart TV to its own universe is not smart; it’s merely another device and platform for the consumption of video,” he said, echoing Helfand.
Indeed, industry observers caution against discounting the second screen. According to Nielsen, almost half of smartphone owners (46 percent) and tablets owners (43 percent) use their mobile devices as a second screen while watching TV. In addition, in Q4 2013 mobile continued to gain share of video streaming, with smartphones, in particular, leading the way, according to Adobe Digital Index’s “U.S. Digital Video Benchmark” report.
The platforms used to develop interactive content should be seen as an extension of how to engage with consumers and to complement traditional forms of advertising and marketing--not replace them, Bayer said. Indeed, activities conducted while watching TV are still in the nascent stage; only 21 percent of U.S. consumers of all ages browse for online products and services, and 16 percent purchase these products and services, according to eMarketer.
For its part, the Pearl group is using a sync-to-broadcast content management platform from Watchwith and automatic content recognition (ACR) software from Cognitive Networks. Schelle said this will give broadcasters more control over how they engage with consumers and the ability to offer targeted ads. “Each one of these smart TVs has an IP address so you can do zone-based advertising,” she said.
Polls, Quizzes, And Quotes
Interactive content is also being used by networks such as Showtime, which began offering it on the prime screen last fall. In partnership with LG, Showtime has launched content such as polls, quizzes, and memorable quotes that are synched with original shows it produces, including “Homeland,” “Dexter,” and “Shameless,” said Wendell Wenjen, director of interactive TV and smart TV advertising platforms at LG Electronics. Viewers have to opt-in from their TV remotes at the beginning of a program to receive the added content.
“One thing we really wanted to be mindful of was offering an interactive experience to people who wanted one,’’ Wenjen told CMO.com. Showtime viewers have the ability to share quotes and the like on their Facebook and Twitter feeds. One of the most popular types of interactive content is the ability for Showtime viewers to make predictions about what is going to happen in an episode, and then they are given the results at the end, according to Wenjen.
In addition to content offered during programs, some retailers are opting to build applications or brand channels that extend the reach of their products. Brightline TV has created “brand microsites” for companies, including American Express, whose channel is up year-round to provide more granular information about travel destinations. It can be found in the channel guide of various cable providers.
“If a channel title sounds remotely interesting, people will click on it and take a detour,’’ Brightline’s Aksman told CMO.com. “That channel-surfing behavior is pretty powerful, and it’s a way to get consumers to hook in with a brand message.” He added that the average person checks a channel guide as often as 30 times a day.
Anything that can be done on a digital platform can be done on a digitally connected TV platform, Aksman said, including pulling in Facebook and Twitter feeds to enable sharing. Connected television has become “an elixir for change in TV advertising because of the capabilities it enables—the actual advertising experience itself, the immersive destination you click into. . .in addition to us being able to deliver a richer look.”
Brightline has also developed apps for second-screen programs, but, “We think to interact with a commercial on the second screen is a bigger step for consumer to have to take,” Aksman said, whereas with the prime screen, they already have a remote in their hand. Average durations with the prime screen are anywhere from five to 10 minutes spent with a brand, he said. “For a marketer who spends so much money trying to get viewers’ attention for 30 seconds, 10 minutes is an eternity, especially for the largest screen in the home.”
Brightline developed a connected TV app called “OnBeauty” for L’Oreal on the Roku streaming player that will also be rolled out to other platforms. The app enables viewers to get more detailed product information and watch tutorials. If a viewer sees a new eye shadow shade she likes, for example, she can save it to a favorites section. The app also has a social component that allows viewers to tweet about their favorite products straight from the TV.
“The goal is to get folks to keep coming back to see what new looks or beauty trends are out there,’’ Aksman said. “That’s where connectivity ups the experience.”
Getting Consumer Participation
In another example, tech-content provider Ensequence is getting ready to announce the launch of a product called Promotions Plus for Samsung smart TVs, which will be used by the Reelz Channel for some of its programs. “It’s a way to offer an SMS reminder for upcoming programs,” said Halstead York, vice president of marketing and product management at Ensequence, in an interview with CMO.com. “A viewer enters in their phone number on the interactive overlay on the TV, and an SMS reminder is sent before the program is aired.”
Ensquence also has a product called Ad Connect Plus, which offers advertisers the ability to create more directly interactive ads, such as requests for various types of information and surveys, York said.
An advertiser may also opt to capture a consumer’s information on the prime screen and send them to the second screen to increase the number of viewers, but York said the main use for Ad Connect Plus is for couponing and promotion reminders. “You may see a promo pop-up for a show you’re interested in.” he said. “There’s huge value in having a reminder pushed to you, as opposed to you actively making the decision to go through the menu navigation and setting that reminder.”
In addition to getting viewers to more actively participate with a brand, Ensquence can provide metrics that tell an advertiser the number of screens an overlay popped up on and how many consumers were led to a digital coupon. “Then those consumers are turned into leads since they now have the coupon,” York said. “We’ve captured that interest and [turned] that passive viewer [into] an active participant.”
Platform providers say the interactivity is being offered at a real scale--in the tens of millions of households--and are not specific to a particular type of distribution. The content is geared to getting viewers’ attention and engagement “without them having to move their eyes from the prime screen, which is where the content is of most value to our customers,’’ said York, adding that the second screen is a “much different experience” and has “issues with real estate.”
“Connected [TV] is an exciting area because the ‘appification’ of TV is huge,’’ Aksman added. When smartphones and tablets first came out, he said, innovative apps were developed for them very quickly. “We’re in that phase. . .as more and more content owners are taking their content to TV apps, which have easier and better search and discovery capabilities than your standard video on-demand environments.”