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Value of Red Button and EPG advertising challenged

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The debate about whether consumers want to interact with advertising on the television screen, or just lean back and consume the content, continues. This provided the backdrop to an interesting debate in December when it became apparent that at least one major brand buyer continues to put his faith in the 30 second spot, and versions of it, rather than concepts like Red Button style interaction or EPG advertising.

Speaking at the Future TV Advertising Forum on a panel about the impact of innovations in ad inventory and formats, Sabine Eckhardt, Managing Director at ProSiebenSat.1 Media, noted that most TV advertising money is still flowing into the 30 second spot. Her company has been experimenting with ad selection using different creatives.

She noted that this format, where consumers can choose which advertisement they want to watch, puts pressure on the creatives to capture the viewer. It also has the effect of highlighting when someone is interested in an advertisement, by the fact that they watch it again, and provides a form of personal frequency capping. “If you have had exposure to that advertisement previously, you might watch the other one,” she pointed out.

ProSiebenSat.1 Media has also been working with BMW for Red Button advertising, with the car maker looking to expand upon the content it can offer beyond 30 second spots, something she described as a huge success. She thinks it is going to be exciting for consumers when every advertisement in an advertising break is interactive.

However, while Richard Brooke, Communications Buying Manager at Unilever, thinks this is a good example of interactivity, he believes the use of second screens in the home has diminished the need for interactive advertising on the television itself. He pointed to figures showing that 55% of people search online after watching a TV advertisement and 36% go to the advertiser website. “With a laptop in front of you, all TV advertisements can be direct response ads,” he suggested. “I am not saying there is no place for FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) here but I am struggling to see Red Button interactivity becoming  mainstream.”

Brooke believes the 30 second spot is a great canvas for story telling that can be used to generate brand awareness, while it can also be used to drive people to the second screen for more information and even for transactions. He summed up his attitude with the assertion that: “People do not engage with the television set but with what is on it. Creativity is king.”

Not surprisingly, he is more impressed with the potential for innovative creative ideas within a classic advertising break than Red Button style interactivity. These include themed advertising breaks, such as a ‘comedy break’ that fits with the kind of programming that is airing.

The role of EPG advertising aroused some strong feelings. Jeff Siegel, SVP Advertising at Rovi, which provides the opportunity to advertise within the EPG on traditional cable in the U.S. but also on connected TVs in Europe, views the programme guide as untapped inventory. He pointed to growing interest in the concept among brands. Siegel was supported by Nigel Walley, MD of media consultancy Decipher, who said from the audience that the EPG has changed radically and should not be judged by the functional software of old. Now graphics-rich and responsive, they are a place where advertising can sit comfortably, he suggested.

Brooke at Unilever was not convinced however, and though open to persuasion, he declared: “Advertising on a page I am trying to navigate away from seems contradictory. I am not sure about the logic of that because I want to go somewhere else; it is somewhere you go to in order to navigate away from it.”

Siegel disagrees with the traditional view that TV is a lean-back experience, suggesting you can lean forward for some social interaction (via the TV) for example, but then make a decision to lean back. Brooke says there are two kinds of engagement with TV: emotional and physical. “When you lean back you are still engaged emotionally and nothing sparks an argument faster than a debate about a TV show.” He thinks the physical engagement should take place on the second screen rather than on the television itself.

Joe Rider, Managing Director at the creative agency Duke & Earl, noted that budgets are not rising at the same rate as the advertising opportunities are, so new and innovative advertising concepts will have to prove their worth. “The value of new inventory and formats will be judged on the basis of reach and Return on Investment,” he said.

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